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Five challenges for Canada, which still has a job to do

Feb 22, 2014, 2:36 PM EST

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 14 - United States v Canada Getty Images

1. Get refocused, and don’t be too confident

Not to take anything away from Friday’s big win over the United States, but that’s in the past. Sunday is the focus now.

The Swedes have flown largely under the radar this tournament, but after an uneven start and the loss of Henrik Zetterberg, they seem to be hitting their stride just in time. Like Canada, they still haven’t lost a game.

“We weren’t one of the favorites to make the finals, but we believed in ourselves, and it’s a great feeling to be here now,” said Daniel Alfredsson after beating Finland in the semifinals.

Alfredsson must not have read many pre-Olympic predictions, because a lot of people did, in fact, pick his team to make the finals. Even without Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, the Swedes are still plenty dangerous up front, and their blue line is matched in depth and talent only by the Canadians. And, of course, they’ve got…

2. Henrik Lundqvist

Remember when he was struggling with the Rangers? Yeah, he’s not struggling anymore. Lundqvist came into the Olympics playing well, and he’s stayed hot in Sochi. Only six shots have beaten him in five games, for a 1.20 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

If not for Lundqvist, the Swedes may very well have lost to Switzerland in the preliminaries. The one goal he did allow versus the Finns wasn’t a good one, but otherwise he was perfect.

“I gave up a tough one there,” he said. “I definitely thought it was an icing so I kind of relaxed and I just made a bad move.”

But, “If you take away that one goal I feel like I played a really solid game, I did the things I need to do.”

3. Start burying some chances

source:  This goes hand-in-hand with point No. 2. Despite all the goal-scoring forwards the Canadians brought with them to Sochi, only four have actually scored. Jeff Carter has three, Jame Benn two, and Patrick Sharp and Ryan Getzlaf each have one.

Against the Americans — just like against the Norwegians, Latvians, and Finns — Canada had lots of shots and not many goals. Granted, Jonathan Quick was a big part of that, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Corey Perry, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan ToewsRick Nash, and Patrice Bergeron have yet to bury one this tournament.

Now, clearly, the most important thing for Canada is defense. Mike Babcock has said time and again that his team’s only job is to score one more than the opposition. So far it’s done that. But shutting out the Swedes won’t be easy. In part because…

4. Stay out of the box

Sweden’s power play has been deadly, scoring seven times on 19 chances. Defenseman Erik Karlsson has three of those seven PP goals, including the game-winner versus Finland, a blast from the point that beat Kari Lehtonen.

Canada has been fairly disciplined to this point, going shorthanded 16 times in five games. But Sweden has the kind of skilled players that tend to draw penalties, and the Swedes as a whole should possess the puck more than some of the sides Canada has faced so far.

“Our coach (Par Marts) keeps telling us ‘go for it, go for it, go for it’ even when we feel we shouldn’t be going for it sometimes,” said Lundqvist. “He encourages our players to use their skill. As long as we use the puck well it’s good for us.”

5. The big ice

What, you thought you’d heard the last of the big-ice factor? Sorry, but when a country hasn’t won Olympic gold outside of North America since 1952, it’s a factor until it bumps the slump. Especially against Sweden, the defending world champs and the last winner of Olympic gold on the big ice, eight years ago in Turin.

“They’re incredibly stingy defensively; they’re hard to play against,” Matt Duchene said of the Swedes, per NHL.com. “They like to slow the game down, they like to re-group. They almost play the game like soccer on this big ice. It’s a chess match, it’s going to be a chess match. I have a great appreciation for Swedish hockey after playing in that league and playing against them last year in the [world championship] and other times.”

  1. c9castine - Feb 22, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    Lets not forget that as bad as the Americans played, the shot clock was 37-31 and the scoreboard was 1-0.

    the swedes play better as a team than maybe any other team in the tournament, their goaltending as as good as anybody’s, and the defense is probably the deepest and most mobile and dangerous of anybody.

    Canada losing would not surprise me, neither would a 4-0 win.

    • joey4id - Feb 22, 2014 at 6:05 PM

      The Americans didn’t play poorly. Matter of fact they played a good game against a much stronger team and gave up only one goal. Canada has a faster and more talented team than the USA, and a better coach.

      • jbink2585 - Feb 23, 2014 at 12:22 AM

        I couldn’t disagree more, Canada has a better team no doubt, but Canadas forwards vs Usa forwards skating wise goes to USA. defensively id take team Canada all day because Canadien D core is unreal they they are stacked . Overall id take Candada’s forwards but skating wise USA forwards skate better than Canada, they were saying it on Broadcast as well. Canada I agree also has better Coach. Canada handsdown best team in this tourney and I think they beat Sweedes tomor by 2+, so I guess I disagree somewhat just the Canadiens forward better skating part.

      • joey4id - Feb 23, 2014 at 6:52 AM

        jbink, the one part of the Canadian’s game that most are overlooking is how well they are playing without the puck. i.e. All 5 guys on the ice are playing excellent defensive hockey. And this is can be attributed to coach “Tikhonov” Babcock.

  2. gregman98 - Feb 22, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    I don’t think Alfredson was “being” Finland.

  3. westof1club - Feb 22, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    They may have to try to spin more sorry excuses about how Subban is a Norris Trophy winner but doesn’t deserve to play because he’s “undisciplined” and “takes too many risks” while Erik Karlsson (criticized for being “soft” and threatens North American status quo bias towards the “european” game he plays) looks quite at home and is thriving in this tournament. Here’s to Sweden showing Canada how international hockey is played.

    • sunderlanding - Feb 22, 2014 at 6:06 PM

      Canada’s defense is doing just fine without Subban. The only justification they need for not playing him…is the way the defense has been playing. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  4. scottybcboy - Feb 22, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    These two teams have been mirrors of each other throughout the tourney. Always winning and in control, yet not blowing the so called ‘minnows’ out. The game on Sunday morning will be much the same….my prediction: 2-1 game with a d-man scoring the winner for……either team.

    As for Subban, the Canadians just don’t need another offensive d-man, Doughty and Weber have been just fine. If either one of those two had been injured PK would be getting lots of ice…..that is why he was named to the team….insurance.

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