20/05/2024

Denmark celebrates its playoff victory and advancement into the quarter finals. Photo Credit: IIHF/Twitter

Ahead of the men's quarter finals in the Winter Olympics Ice Hockey, The Inner Sanctum looks at how each team can be successful in each quarter final match.

After some fantastic group play and scintillating playoff matches, the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament has its quarter-finalists. The Inner Sanctum looks at all eight teams still vying for gold, how the sides have been doing so far in the tournament, and what needs to be done to continue on the path for a gold medal.

Quarter Final 1: USA v Slovakia (Wednesday, February 16, 3:10pm AEDT, 12:10pm local time)

USA

After the NHL pulled its players from competing at the Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns, team USA was forced to field a roster made up primarily of NCAA players.

American Hockey League and European-league based players now make up the remainder of the roster to compete and were not expected to perform all that well as a result.

What happened was that the USA topped its group, going three for three in group play and automatically qualifying for the finals.

To advance to the semi-finals, the USA will need to do a few things against Slovakia.

It will need to continue scoring at its current rate (13.16 per cent, 15 goals from 114 shots), a rate which is second only to Finland.

Brendan Brisson celebrates scoring against Canada in the group stages. Photo Credit: USA Hockey/Twitter

The Americans will also need their special teams (penalty kill and power play) play to keep up its current rate. Their penalty kill has been excellent, having only conceded one goal short-handed from 10 (90 per cent success) in the group stages.

The power play has gone three for 10 so far (30 per cent), which could be a little better, but it is certainly nothing to scoff at.

The goaltending will also be key for Americans, as the team currently has a tournament leading 95.65 save percentage, conceding only four goals from 92 shots on goal.

Slovakia

For Slovakia, which make the quarter finals after beating Germany 4-0 in its playoff match, a few things need to improve to advance to the semis.

The Slovakian power play has gone zero for 13 in its opening four games, and if it wants to break down the American penalty kill, will need to drastically improve how they operate with the player advantage.

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Slovakia has scored 12 goals from 149 shots so far throughout the tournament (8.51 per cent), and its goaltending has been poor, giving up 12 goals on 100 shots (88.00 save percentage).

Slovakia also has some issues staying out of the penalty box, committing 15 penalties (average of 3.75 per game) and against a USA team converting at 30 per cent on the power play, a power play goal would seem likely if the Americans get multiple opportunities to do so.

Quarter Final 2: Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) v Denmark (Wednesday, February 16, 5:00pm AEDT, 2:00pm local time)

ROC

The ROC was one of the teams which might have benefited from the absence of NHL players. While it does not have the likes of Alexander Ovechkin or Andrei Vasilevskiy, it does have players with previous NHL experience such as Nikita Gusev and captain Vadim Shipachyov, and a roster full of players competing for top teams in the KHL.

The ROC have been playing a lot of low event hockey, only scoring eight goals on 92 shots (8.70 per cent), with five of those coming in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Czech Republic.

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The goaltending has only given up the six goals against the Czech Republic, shutting out quarter final opponents Denmark, and Switzerland on a combined 90 shots on goal across the three games, for a 93.33 save percentage.

Special teams could be a little bit of an issue for ROC, as it has only scored one power play goal from 11 attempts (9.09 per cent), while the penalty kill has given up four goals on 11 times being short-handed (63.64 per cent success).

Denmark

Participating in its first Olympic games as a team, making it to the quarter finals is already a massive achievement for Denmark. Now that they are here however, they will want to go as far as they can, and that continues with a victory against the ROC.

For Denmark, which make the quarter finals after beating Latvia 3-2 in its playoff match, it will need to take the lessons learned from the shutout loss to ROC and execute a similar strategy to what it did in the games against the Czech Republic (2-1 victory) and Switzerland (5-3 victory).

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The penalty kill will help Denmark a lot in this game, successfully killing 13 of the 15 times it has been shorthanded (86.67 per cent), which against a weak ROC power play will help eliminate some risk of going shorthanded.

The power play for Denmark leaves a lot to be desired, only going two for 12 (16.67 per cent), so it will need to be a lot more efficient at 5v5 play and putting more chances away given they have only scored 10 goals in total (including the two power play goals) from 94 shots (10.64 per cent).

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Quarter Final 3: Finland v Switzerland (Wednesday, February 16, 7:40pm AEDT, 4:40pm local time)

Finland

Going three for three in group play, Finland absolutely ran through its group, with a 6-2 victory over Slovakia, a 3-1 win over Denmark, and a 4-3 overtime victory over Sweden.

Finland tops the tournament in scoring percentage, with 13 goals from 95 shots (13.68 per cent). The USA is the second best team at 13.16 per cent but needed 114 shots for its 15 goals.

Finland’s power play also tops the tournament at 44.44 per cent (four goals from nine opportunities with the player advantage).

Valtteri Kemiläinen celebrates with the bench after scoring against Latvia in the group stage. Photo Credit: Leijonat/Twitter

The penalty kill leaves a bit to be desired, conceding four goals from 13 times short-handed (69.23 per cent success rate).

The Finnish defence and goaltending have also been great so far, only giving up six goals from 83 shots (92.77 per cent).

For Finland to advance to the semi-finals, it will just need to stay out of the box and do exactly what it has been doing so far throughout the tournament.

Switzerland

For Switzerland, which make the quarter finals after beating the Czech Republic 4-2 in its playoff match, it will need to do the opposite of what it has done so far with scoring.

Switzerland has only scored eight goals so far, with seven of those coming in its last two games from a total of 107 shots (7.48 per cent). Four of those goals have come on the power play from 14 attempts (28.57 per cent).

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The penalty kill has been a good thing for Switzerland, as it has only allowed two goals on 12 times being short-handed (83.33 per cent success).

The defence and goaltending have given up 10 goals from 129 shots (92.25 save percentage).

The path to victory for Switzerland will be to play a low-scoring game, be strong on the penalty kill, and take full advantage of any power play opportunities it can get.

Quarter Final 4: Sweden v Canada/China (Thursday, February 17, 12:30am AEDT, Wednesday, February 16, 9:30pm local time)

Sweden

Sweden qualified automatically for the quarter finals as a result of being the best second place finisher in the group stages. 

The scoring for Sweden leaves a bit to be desired. It has scored 10 goals from only 85 shots (11.76 per cent) which is fantastic, but half of those goals have come on the power play, where it is currently converting at 31.25 per cent from 16 opportunities.

The penalty kill has not been ideal for Sweden, giving up four goals on 10 times being short-handed for a 60 per cent success rate, which is the lowest of the 12 teams in the tournament.

Lucas Wallmark and Anton Lander celebrate after scoring against Finland. Photo Credit: Tre Kronor/Twitter

Outside of the penalty kill, the defence and goaltending has been fantastic for Sweden, only allowing 85 shots and conceding just seven goals in total (91.76 save percentage), which includes those four given up on the penalty kill.

The path to victory for Sweden over Canada is to improve the number of goals scored at 5v5 and keep up the fantastic defensive efforts it has delivered so far throughout the tournament.

Canada

The Canadians make the quarter finals after beating the host nation China 7-2 in their playoff game.

Canada, which only missed out on qualifying directly because opponents Sweden had an overtime loss against Finland, and in doing so picked up an extra standings point, is in a good position to make a run towards the gold medal.

The Canadian penalty kill tops the tournament so far and has only allowed one goal from 14 times being short-handed (92.86 per cent success).

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Canada currently sits third in the tournament in terms of power play, scoring efficiency, and goaltending. The power play is currently converting at 37.50 per cent (six for 16), while its 19 goals have come from 153 shots (12.42 per cent).

The defence and goaltending have only given up seven goals from 106 shots, for a 93.40 save percentage.

For Canada, the path to victory in its quarter final against Sweden will be to outwork the Swedes; draw them into taking unnecessary penalties, capitalising on those power play opportunities, and finding ways to break down their tough defence at 5v5 play.

If the Canadians can do these things, they will be on their way to competing for another medal. The colour of that medal is up to them.

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