The group stage of the Women’s Ice Hockey at the 2022 Winter Olympics has finished with some amazing action as Team Canada ran out 4-2 winners over Team USA in a game to determine the top seed.
Japan beat the Czech Republic 3-2 after a shootout that was literally decided by an inch, Sweden took a 3-1 victory over Denmark, and Finland dominated the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on their way to a 5-0 win.
With those results, the three teams advancing from group B to meet the five teams from group A are Japan, the Czech Republic, and Sweden.
The quarter-final match-ups are USA v Czech Republic, Canada v Sweden, ROC v Switzerland, and Finland v Japan.
The Inner Sanctum is here to break down all four of the quarter-final match-ups and where the strengths and weaknesses lie for each team.
Quarter Final 1: USA v Czech Republic (February 11, 3:10pm AEDT, 12:10pm local time)
Strength: Ability to score
The USA’s biggest strength has been its ability to score, putting up 20 goals throughout the group stage (Canada is the only team to put up more at 33). The only downside is that they have needed 233 shots on goal to score their 20 goals (8.58 percent).
This number is inflated slightly by their game against Canada where the Americans were trailing by two goals for the entire third period and had to start putting more shots in to try to get back into the game.
This was made harder by the fact that Canada took away the center of the ice very well and forced team USA to shoot from the wings. which are lower quality chances than if they were getting shots away from the slot or around the blue paint.
Weakness: Penalty Killing
The penalty kill of team USA has been the worst throughout the entire tournament so far, giving up three goals from seven attempts (57.14 percent). The only saving grace is that they have only committed seven penalties, which has protected them from exposing their penalty-killing unit.
Strengths: Defence and goal-tending
The defence and goaltending for the Czech Republic have been its biggest strengths, only allowing 84 shots on goal, saving 76 of them for eight goals against (90.48 save percentage).
Against a USA team that has put up 233 shots so far, the defence and goaltending will need to be at the top of its game for the Czech Republic if it wants to have any chance of pulling off a major upset.
Weakness: Special Teams
The power play and penalty kill have been bad for the Czech Republic. It has not scored a single power-play goal, despite having 17 opportunities to do so. It has also conceded four goals short-handed from 15 times on the penalty kill (73.33 percent).
The inability to score on the power play is the biggest concern for the Czech Republic, especially since it is coming up against a USA team that has a bad penalty kill.
The Czech Republic will need to take full advantage of any opportunity it gets with the player advantage to give them a chance to upset team USA and advance to the semi-finals.
Quarter Final 2: Canada v Sweden (February 12, 12:10am AEDT, February 11, 9:10pm local time)
Strengths: Scoring ability and special teams
Canada’s biggest strengths have been its scoring ability, and the way they have played on special teams (power play and penalty kill).
Throughout the opening two games, Canada’s goals had mostly come from the right side of the ice in the offensive zone, but during their remaining two group stage games, it was complemented with more goals from the slot and the left side of the offensive zone.
The way Canada has been playing on special teams has been nothing short of remarkable. The power play has scored six goals on 13 attempts (46.15 percent) with the player advantage. When it has been forced onto the penalty kill, Canada is putting up astounding numbers, successfully killing 21 of 23 penalties (91.30 percent).
The only team that has done better on the penalty kill is quarter-final opponents Sweden, who have successfully killed off all 16 penalties they have taken.
During these short-handed times on the ice, Canada has had multiple short-handed opportunities to score, as well as a penalty shot. That came against the USA and was successfully scored by Marie-Philip Poulin.
Canada’s biggest weakness has been the number of penalties it’s taking. Canada has been forced onto the penalty kill 23 times. While the penalty killers have done an amazing job in only allowing two goals against, these numbers should not be sustainable over an extended period.
If Canada continues to average 5.75 penalties per game, this could create problems as they continue throughout the finals. If it manages to keep up this current rate of killing penalties, it will be an achievement to be celebrated.
Strengths: Penalty killing and goal-tending
Sweden’s goal-tending has saved 137 of 145 shots (94.48 percent), allowing 8 goals against, including conceding a goal while it was on the power play, and an empty-net goal. The only team with a higher save percentage is Canada, at 95.41 percent.
The penalty killing has also been fantastic for Sweden, successfully killing all 16 penalties it has committed throughout the group stages. With Canada having the best power play in the tournament, a strong penalty kill will be needed to limit the chances for the Canadians.
If Sweden can keep these two things going as well as they did in the group stages, they will go a long way to helping them beat Canada and advancing to the semi-finals.
Weakness: Lack of scoring
Tied at the bottom of the list with China, Sweden has had an inability to put pucks in the net, scoring only seven goals from 109 shots in all situations (6.42 percent). On the power play, they have scored only two goals from 12 attempts (16.67 percent).
Sweden will need to keep this game very low scoring if it wants to have a chance to beat Canada or find a way to outscore Canada, which seems highly unlikely given their lack of scoring throughout the group stages, and Canada’s defence which has only given up five goals so far from 109 shots.
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Quarter Final 3: ROC v Switzerland (12 February, 3:10pm AEDT, 12:10pm local time)
Strength: ROC has beaten Switzerland already
The ROC has had numerous obstacles to overcome. They had COVID-19 issues before the tournament, which forced key players to be left off the roster until later in the group stages. There were some more COVID-19 issues throughout the group stage. Add in the fact of having been in Group A, they could be forgiven for having had some underwhelming performances so far throughout the tournament.
Team ROC beat Switzerland 5-2 when they met in the group stages, and this is really the only positive it can take into the game as the ROC have not put up good performances in the other games.
If it wants to advance to the semi-finals, ROC will need to repeat the performance from earlier in the tournament and take on board the lessons learned from the defeats to Finland, the USA, and Canada.
Weaknesses: Goal scoring, goal-tending, and special teams
The reality is that the ROC has not been good so far due to the previously mentioned issues above.
Like the Czech Republic, it has also not scored on the power play on 11 attempts (both teams are the only two not to score on the power play). The penalty kill has conceded eight goals from 22 attempts at killing off the penalties (63.64 percent).
ROC has only scored six goals in the entire tournament, five of which came in that game against Switzerland (the other was against Canada), and only amassed 81 shots on goal (scoring at 8.11 percent).
ROC has also conceded 18 goals and allowed 171 shots on net (89.47 save percentage), which is not ideal.
If they manage to beat Switzerland a second time, ROC will need to improve on all these aspects if they want to have a chance at doing well in either the semi-finals or a medal game.
Strength: Power Play
Switzerland’s power play is where it has scored on four of its 21 attempts (19.05 percent). While this does not look good, given Switzerland has only scored six goals in total, it has managed to do its best work with the player advantage throughout this tournament.
The key to success for Switzerland will be forcing ROC to take penalties and then successfully executing their power play strategy.
Weaknesses: Goal scoring, defence, and penalty killing
The defence for Switzerland has not been good. It has given up 27 goals from 207 shots fired at them (86.96 save percentage). The Swiss have also given up four goals on the penalty kill from 13 penalties committed (69.23 percent).
When you combine these two efforts with their inability to score or put up shots, scoring only six goals from 81 shots on goal (7.41 percent) it looks dire for Switzerland to succeed against the ROC and make it to the semi-finals.
Quarter Final 4: Finland v Japan (February 12, 7:40pm AEDT, 4:40pm local time)
Strength: Power Play
Having had the player advantage 17 times throughout the group stages, Finland scored on six of these opportunities (35.29 percent), second only to Canada at 46.15 percent and above their quarter final opponents Japan at 30.77 percent (four goals on 13 opportunities).
With six of Finland’s 10 goals have come on the power play, Finland will need to force Japan into committing penalties and keep up its strong power play. If this is successful, Finland will have a strong chance at offsetting the lack of goals scored at 5v5 play and advancing beyond the quarter-finals.
Ranking at the bottom after the group stages in terms of save percentage (86.71 percent), giving up 19 goals on 143 shots against, Finland needs to improve in the defensive zone and take away good shot opportunities by forcing the opposition to take lower risk shots from bad angles.
Strength: Ability to play a 200-foot game
Japan has been able to play well throughout this tournament, topping group B with a 3-0-1 record. In the offensive zone, it has put up 13 goals from 140 shots (9.29 percent), with four of those goals coming on the power play from 13 attempts (30.77 percent).
In the defensive zone, Japan has only given up seven goals from 115 shots (93.91 save percentage) and has only given up one goal short-handed from the nine penalties it has committed (88.89 percent).
This is the second-lowest number of penalties committed throughout the group stage, with the USA having only committed seven.
Japan is going to be incredibly tough to break down, and an upset against Finland could put Japan on the path to its first medal at either a World Championship or the Olympic Games.
Weaknesses: Uncharted territory
Japan has never made it past the quarter-final stage at a World Championship or Olympic Games.
Japan’s best performance in the World Championships came at the 2021 tournament where they finished in 6th place, which equals their best performance at an Olympic Games, achieved in both 1998 and 2018.
If Japan wants to upset Finland, it will need to take the momentum it has garnered throughout the group stages and use that to force Finland into playing the style Japan wants to play.
If the Japanese can do that, they will be competing for their first-ever medal.
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