05/03/2024

Slovakia celebrates the upset victory over the USA. Photo Credit: IIHF/Twitter

After an exciting day of men’s ice hockey quarter final action at the Olympics, the attention now turns to the semi-finals. The Inner Sanctum wraps up the quarter finals, and analyses what the remaining four teams will need to do to win a medal later this week.

USA v Slovakia

This was a game in which both these teams could not be separated at the end of 60 minutes, or even at the end of overtime, despite a USA lead for over half of the game in regulation time.

This game required one of the cruelest ways to be eliminated in all of sports. A shootout.

But how did these two teams get to a shootout?

Juraj Slafkovský opened the scoring for Slovakia 11 minutes into the game, but the first period would end tied after Nick Abruzzese slotted home the first goal for the Americans.

Sam Hentges would give the Americans the lead 8:56 into the second period, a lead they would not relinquish until there was 44 seconds to go in regulation.

With the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, Marek Hrivík would put Slovakia’s second goal past Strauss Mann to tie the game and send it into 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime, and with scores still level, the shootout.

Only one attempt was successful in the shootout. Peter Cehlárik would put his shootout attempt past Strauss on Slovakia’s fourth attempt, which was shooting second.

All the pressure was on Andy Miele for the USA, who failed to put his attempt past Patrik Rybár, which sent Slovakia through to the semi-finals in an upset over the USA.

The biggest turning point of this entire game was early in the third period, where the USA had a power play, and then 47 seconds into that power play, were gifted an extended period of 5v3 play after a second Slovakian player committed a penalty.

Having a two-player advantage for 1:23, and a 47 second player advantage either side of that, the USA were unable to get anything going, giving away a short-handed chance, and only managing a couple of shots away due to the pressure from the Slovakian penalty killing units.

Had the USA been successful during this period of play, it could have put the game to bed and playing a semi-final. Instead, Slovakia makes it to the final four of the Olympics for the first time since 2010.

Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) v Denmark

The second of the quarter finals saw ROC take on Denmark. Denmark was looking for revenge after a shutout loss to the ROC in the first game of the tournament but would be unsuccessful as ROC ran out 3-1 winners over Denmark in a dominant performance.

The shot count was 40-18 in favour of the ROC, and both sides would find success on the power play.

Vadim Shipachyov would open the scoring 13 minutes in for ROC and would not trail again.

Frans Nielsen would get the equaliser for Denmark on the power play 2:57 into the second period and Nikita Nesterov would restore the one goal lead for ROC with 5:24 to go in the second period of an absolute rocket of a shot from the top of the left circle.

Vyacheslav Voinov would convert on the power play with 4:05 to go in the third period to put the icing on the cake and send ROC to the semi-finals as it chases a second straight gold medal, after winning in 2018 as Olympic Athletes from Russia.

For Denmark, it exits at the quarter final stage in its first ever Olympics, an achievement the team should be proud of, finishing with 11 goals scored from 112 shots (9.82 per cent), three of those from 14 power play attempts (21.43 per cent), an 83.33 per cent success rate on the penalty kill, and a 93.57 save percentage.

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Finland v Switzerland

The third quarter final saw Finland advance to the semi-finals after defeating Switzerland 5-1

Two goals in the first period (Miro Aaltonen and Mikko Lehtonen) and one 3:08 into the second period (Marko Anttila) would see Switzerland swap Reto Berra for Leonardo Genoni in net.

Andres Ambühl would score the lone Swiss goal on the power play with 2:11 to go in the second period.

With time running out for Switzerland, Genoni would be pulled for an extra attacker with 5:14 to go, and Iiro Pakarinen would score an empty net goal, sending Genoni back in.

Genoni would be pulled a second time just 22 seconds later for an extra attacker with the same result, as Teemu Hartikainen would score on the empty net with 3:13 to go.

The shots finished 34-23 in favour of Switzerland as it was in a continual chase of the game and unable to find the back of the net.

For Switzerland, it exits the quarter finals, having made the stage for the first time since 2010, finishing with nine goals from 141 shots (6.38 per cent), five of those from 16 power play attempts (31.58 per cent), an 85.71 success rate on the penalty kill, and a 90.13 save percentage.

Sweden v Canada

A 2-0 victory to Sweden would see both North American participants exit the tournament at the quarter final stage in a shock to the entire tournament.

The first goal for Sweden would come in the third period as Lucas Wallmark would score with 9:45 to go in the game.

Matt Tomkins would be pulled for the extra attacker for Canada with 2:09 to go and Anton Lander would score on the empty net with 1:50 to go.

Tomkins would be pulled again 15 seconds later but with no success for Canada, as the team would fail to score.

For Canada, it exits at the quarter final stage for the first time since 2006 in a disappointing result after achieving bronze in 2018, finishing with 19 goals from 175 shots (10.86 per cent), six of those from 19 power play attempts (31.58 per cent), a 94.12 success rate on the penalty kill, and a 93.18 save percentage.

Semi Final 1: Finland v Slovakia (Friday, February 18, 3:10pm AEDT, 12:10pm local time)

Finland v Slovakia kicks off the semi-finals, and Slovakia will be looking to pull off a second straight upset while overturning the 6-2 loss that it suffered at the hands of Finland in the group stage.

Finland (18 goals from 118 shots, 15.25 per cent) is performing well-ahead of Slovakia (15 goals from 178 shots, 8.43 per cent) in terms of scoring efficiency.

Finland celebrates after scoring a goal against Switzerland. Photo Credit: Leijonat/Twitter

On the power play, Finland is performing with four goals from 11 advantages (36.36 per cent), while Slovakia is scoreless on 13 attempts with the player advantage.

Slovakia is performing better on the penalty kill. Both sides have been short-handed 15 times throughout the tournament. Slovakia have only conceded three times (80.00 per cent success rate), while Finland has conceded five times (66.67 per cent success rate).

The edge in goaltending also goes the way of Finland. The save percentage has a discrepancy of 4.39 per cent, with Finland conceding just seven goals from 117 shots (94.02 per cent), while Slovakia has conceded 14 goals from 135 shots (89.63 per cent).

For Slovakia to have a chance at advancing to the gold medal game, it will need to repeat the performance it put out against the USA and perform strong on the penalty kill if short-handed. It will also just need to keep the game a close contest to be in with a chance and try to outwork Finland, otherwise it will be a strong Finland side competing for gold.

Semi Final 2: ROC v Sweden (Saturday, February 19, 12:10am AEDT, Friday, February 18, 9:10pm local time)

The ROC came in as pre-tournament favourites, and it is no surprise why. With its roster made up of some of the best KHL players, including some former NHL players, it has one of the most experienced and talented rosters in the tournament which it used to their advantage.

While ROC has only scored 11 goals (from 132 shots, 8.33 per cent), it have won three of its four games, playing low-event hockey and grinding out results.

The special teams play has been less than ideal for ROC, only converting on two of 14 chances with the player advantage (14.29 per cent), while conceding five times from 13 when short-handed (61.54 per cent success rate).

Sweden comes together to celebrate advancing to the semi-finals. Photo Credit: Tre Kronor/Twitter

The goaltending and defence have been good, only giving up seven goals on 108 shots (93.52 save percentage), which is the third fewest number of shots given up so far. Opponents Sweden (107 shots, also for seven goals, 93.46 save percentage), and the Czech Republic (89 shots, for 12 goals against, 86.52 save percentage) have given up less shots on goal.

The key to victory for ROC is quite simple. Keep the game at 5v5 as much as possible and play low-event hockey. If it can successfully do this, the gold medal game awaits.

For Sweden, the key to victory will be to force ROC to play high-event hockey, minimise the amount of 5v5 chances it gives up, and to cash in on the power play when it gets the opportunity to do so.

Having scored 12 goals from 111 shots (10.81 per cent), with five of those coming on the power play from 19 opportunities (26.32 per cent).

Of the seven goals Sweden has conceded, four of them have been when it is short-handed (13 times for a 69.23 success rate on the penalty kill).

If Sweden can dictate the way the game is played, it should be able to see itself through to the gold medal game on Sunday afternoon.

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