Austria, Canada, Finland and Norway. That's a pretty tough group. How is it going to shake out?
Austrians have only a few guys that can do real damage to a top team. I wrote about them very extensively a little while ago and since then practically nothing has changed, so do check it out. They are ranked #15 in the world and it's a fair reflection of their level. Vanek and Grabner centered by Koch will be a nice top line that will put some pucks on net.
I feel like I want to skip the small talk and just give you the lines from the first practice right off the plane: Kunitz-Crosby-Carter; Sharp-Toews-Nash, Tavares-Getzlaf-Perry. The defensive pairings were Keith-Weber, Vlasic-Doughty; Bouwmeester-Pietrangelo. No word of the starter in goal, but I'd be hugely surprised if it weren't Carey Price.
Carter on the top line would not be my first choice. I'd have put Nash there without question. Tavares on left wing, hmm, we knew there would be centers out of position. This is all nitpicking. This is as deep a team as any in the tournament.
The Lions find themselves weakened after the last-minute losses of their top two centers Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu, in addition to the previous withdrawal of Saku Koivu. They will be forced to fill in the holes in the top 6 by young forwards Aleksander Barkov and Mikael Granlund.
They practiced today and the lines were as follows: Granlund-Barkov-Selänne; Korpikoski-O. Jokinen-Ruutu; J. Jokinen-Kontiola-Aaltonen; Komarov-Immonen-Lehtera. On defense the pairings were Timonen-Vatanen, Maatta-Salo, Lepisto-Hietanen. Doesn't strike fear in your hearts, does it?
Regardless, the Finns know how to play on the big ice. They will be backstopped by the best goaltender in the NHL Tuukka Rask and should he somehow falter there's always Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. I once thought this was a medal-worthy squad but now think they'll have a hard time getting out of the quarters.
Currently ranked #9 in the world and lead by a well-playing Mats Zuccarello, the Norwegians will not be a walkover. Their defense is not the tightest one around, but they can actually score, and a lot. I would run and gun with them, because they've shown they can score in bunches.
Here is the schedule for all 6 Group B games, converted to Eastern time. Also, this is the full TV schedule.
|Thursday, Feb 13||3 am EST||Austria vs. Finland|
|Thursday, Feb 13||12 noon EST||Canada vs. Norway|
|Friday, February 14||12 noon EST||Canada vs. Austria|
|Friday, February 14||12 noon EST||Norway vs. Finland|
|Sunday, February 16||3 am EST||Austria vs. Norway|
|Sunday, February 16||12 noon EST||Canada vs. Finland|
PREDICTED FINISH AFTER GROUP STAGE
Canada will finish first with 3 wins, Finland second with 2, Norway third with 1, and Austria will most likely be without wins. I think Finland will have to fight to get to the quarters, Canada will absolutely win a free pass thereto, and Austria and Norway will end their run in the qualification stage.