This was a decent start to the Olympics for both teams, albeit a better one on the scoreboard for Sweden. I think we’re still a ways away from calling Japan a truly competitive team, but they’re definitely a program on the rise. This isn’t something that will happen this Olympics, or maybe even before the next one, but I’m super intrigued to see where Japan can take things and how quickly they can close the gap developmentally and catch some of these European countries.
Sweden does not have the flashiest group of forwards but they have a fairly good mix of experience and skill. Both goals were scored off of really nice plays, especially the go-ahead goal from Sara Hjalmarsson early in the third period. She didn’t hesitate at all taking a no-look feed from Erika Grahm, crashing hard and putting it away. It was a nice sequence for a team that needs that level of execution consistently.
Their defense is going to be pressed much harder when they eventually play Switzerland in their final game of group play, but the Swedes take on Korea next, which I think will be a good opportunity for them to settle in a little more. We’re already seeing Emilia Ramboldt being leaned on pretty heavily, but Annie Svedin and Johanna Fällman are also solid players with experience.
Switzerland 8, Korea 0
Alina Müller’s performance spoke for itself in this one. She tied an Olympic record with four goals, and had a natural hat trick before the end of the first period. She’s no stranger to big performances on this stage; she assisted on the tying goal and put away an empty netter in the bronze medal game in 2014 – as a 15-year-old. Just a special, special player who already has the tools and the poise to be a major impact player here.
I’ve long been a fan of Swiss forwards Phoebe Stänz and Lara Stalder, who both pack a lot of punch as true scoring threats. Müller is on another level even above those two, and there’s no doubt that all three give Switzerland some really good weapons up front. Maybe it’s not worth getting excited about a drubbing against Korea, but this is not a team I’d be willing to write off with those kinds of weapons up front – and a pretty good history of winning medals when they weren’t really in the conversation to do so.
United States 3, Finland 1
I think Team Finland is way past the point of being satisfied with close games against the top two. The fact that this game was competitive should be no surprise at this point, and it has to be frustrating for the Finns to not have come away with a win.
This was a good showing for Finland, though; Michelle Karvinen and Susanna Tapani were threats all game, as usual, and there’s no way they stay off the scoresheet for too long. Noora Räty was dialed in. Venla Hovi scored the game’s opening goal with seconds left in the first period, and I thought she had a strong game overall. Petra Nieminen made a really nice play to set up that goal, and Emma Nuutinen had a really good showing as well. All encouraging signs for Finland, who will need a well-established secondary attack going forward in this tournament.
USA was able to turn it on in the second period, with Monique Lamoureux-Morando driving the net to tie it up and Kendall Coyne grabbing the lead for the U.S. on the power play. The team as a whole definitely looked more in sync than they did in their December series against Canada, and closed out the win in a tight game, which has to feel good confidence-wise at this point.
It looked like Team USA was trying out several different defensemen on the power play. It was only the first game, and maybe they wanted to get different people involved in those situations, but I found it to be an interesting personnel decision to not be calling on specific units in such a tight game.
Canada 5, OAR 0
OAR netminder Nadezhda Morozova did well to keep the Canadians off the board in the first period, but couldn’t hold them off for much longer in a tough game. Brianne Jenner, who has really been excellent all year, made a great play down low and snuck a feed to Rebecca Johnston in front to help Canada break through.
It wasn’t altogether the fastest start for the Canadians but they’re content to just roll their lines and let people like Jenner, Johnston, Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner and Jennifer Wakefield make plays. Their attack has really come together this year but they’ll face a bigger challenge in their next game against Finland, who beat them in preliminary round action at the 2017 World Championships.
Nice to see Mélodie Daoust with a strong game for Canada, scoring two goals and leading all Canadian forwards in ice time at 17:44. Daoust and Jillian Saulnier are two players who may have had a little more to prove this year compared to other forwards here, and they’ve become important pieces up front for this team when it matters most.