PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Are the Swedes healthy enough?


When Olympic rosters were announced in early January, each nation knew it was unlikely all players would remain healthy until Sochi.

Sweden, however, probably didn’t count on half its roster getting hurt.

An exaggeration? Yes, but only slightly. The Swedes endured a tough January as a number of key players went down with injury:

— Henrik Zetterberg missed two games to a back ailment, having already missed 11 earlier in the year with a herniated disc.

— Daniel Alfredsson missed six games with back spasms.

— Alex Steen missed 11 games with a concussion, and is currently playing with a fractured toe.

— Loui Eriksson missed 15 games with a concussion, his second of the year.

— Henrik Sedin missed eight games with a rib injury.

— Johan Franzen missed 16 games with a concussion, returned to play once, then was put on IR again.

In the case of Sedin and Franzen, their injuries were serious enough to rule them out of Sochi, replaced by Marcus Johansson and Gustav Nyquist respectively. In Sedin, the Swedes lost an experienced international performer (part of the ’06 gold medal team in Turin) and a top center; in Franzen, they lost a quality goalscorer who thrived in his last international competition, scoring nine points in seven games at the 2012 Worlds.

It’ll be very interesting to see how Sweden fares without the Sedin twins playing together. Swedish head coach Par Marts had planned on playing them on the same line and in a top-six forward role, and has been forced to re-jig his lineup — Daniel will now be centered by Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom.

“I think [Henrik and Backstrom] are pretty similar in their playing styles,” Sedin said, per the Olympic News Service. “They like to keep the puck and move it up, so I think it will work very well. He is an incredible passer and a smart player, so it’s going to be fun.”

“Of course, it is sad for [Henrik], but that’s just how it is. He has never been injured, so this is definitely the longest I’ve played without him.”

Thankfully for Sweden, the positions considered to be its greatest strengths — defense and goaltending — are operating at full health. Henrik Lundqvist was razor sharp for the Rangers leading up to the Olympics and, on Monday, Marts rolled out what looked to be three formidable defense pairings, as Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson skated with 2012 Norris winner Erik Karlsson, while the Detroit and Chicago boys — Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson — made up the other pairs.

That left a pair of pretty quality NHL blueliners on the outside looking in. Henrik Tallinder and Alex Edler were tagged as the seventh and eighth defensemen, which illustrates just how deep (and healthy) the Swedish blueline is.

“I think there are a lot of teams that have pretty good teams, and we’re definitely one of them,” Karlsson told NHL.com. “We have a lot of guys that have been around for a while and even won in the past. We have some younger guys that have been playing really good lately.”

With that said, it does seem the x-factor is health. Zetterberg, Alfredsson, Steen and Eriksson will need to put their respective ailments behind them, which is a tall order given the compacted nature of the Olympic schedule. Teams could end up playing as many as seven games in 10 days to win gold — and make no mistake, gold is the goal for Sweden.

“People talk about Canada, the U.S. and Russia, and rightly so. They’ve got great teams,” Alfredsson said. “But we feel we can give them a good match, and we’re looking forward to playing one of those teams.”

Wild lose Scandella to lower-body injury

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Marco Scandella #6 of the Minnesota Wild skates after the puck against Winnipeg Jets during the game on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Ryan Suter may be in for a long night, at least if the first period of the Minnesota Wild – Buffalo Sabres game is any indication.

Suter logged 11 minutes of ice time in that opening frame after fellow defenseman Marco Scandella suffered a lower-body injury. The Wild aren’t certain if he’ll be able to come back in the game.

Onlookers believe that Scandella got hurt while he was tangled up with Nicolas Deslauriers of the Sabres.

Scandella is averaging a little under 20 minutes per game so far this season, so the Wild have to hope that this is just a minor issue.

Welcome Lindholm: Ducks send Theodore, Etem to AHL

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Shea Theodore #53 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on September 28, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks finally hammered out a (sweet) deal with Hampus Lindholm, so now it comes down to some housekeeping.

Specifically, it means sending some fairly useful players with significant pedigrees down to the AHL on Thursday. The team announced that both Shea Theodore and Emerson Etem are bound for the San Diego Gulls.

Theodore, the 26th pick back in 2013, contributed a pretty assist to the Ducks’ 6-1 shellacking of the Nashville Predators last night:

It’s a cool story that Etem returned to the franchise that selected him 29th overall in 2010, yet he’s struggled to really find a niche in the NHL so far. At 24, there’s still time, though he likely feels a little anxious to become a full-time guy at the top level.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun notes that Shea Theodore is likely to be on LTIR for “the foreseeable future,” which means that the Ducks aren’t forced to move Cam Fowler.

That’s great news for the Ducks. For Theodore in particular? The situation is not so great.

Red Wings will likely be without red-hot Vanek tonight

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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With a whopping 30.8 shooting percentage, a lot of things have gone Thomas Vanek‘s way since he joined the Detroit Red Wings. Thursday bucks that trend.

Puck luck isn’t what went away for Vanek; instead, he’s gotten a bad break with a lower-body injury that is expected to sideline him during tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues.

The Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James pegs it as possibly being a groin injury or hip flexor. The Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan leaves more toward it being a groin issue.

With eight points during his first seven games with Detroit, Vanek’s been a revelation, but that redemption story is now paused. It sounds like Justin Abdelkader will return to the lineup for the Red Wings, so maybe it isn’t all bad news for Detroit.

The Red Wings confirmed that he would be out later on in the evening.

Alzner: Capitals’ playoff letdown is ‘deep somewhere in our heads’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shakes hands with Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals after the Penguins defeated the Capitals 4-3 in overtime in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The mood is a “little sour” in the Washington Capitals locker room right now, and the discomfort goes deeper than losing back-to-back games for the first time in more than a year.

With it being early in 2016-17, maybe the Capitals aren’t totally over falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins after a resounding run to the Presidents’ Trophy.

“Last year, we were just so hungry all over the ice, and that’s why we had so much success. We just haven’t been as hungry right now,” Karl Alzner said, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t know if it’s because deep somewhere in our heads, we did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us, so maybe it’s just taking some time to build back up and as the season goes on, we get better. I don’t feel that in the front of my head, but maybe deep in the back, that’s kind of what’s going on. We’re better than how we’ve been playing.”

Credit Alzner for his candor, because that’s a remarkable admission of vulnerability.

Buying in

Not every member of the Capitals look at a few bumps in the road as a bad thing. Braden Holtby told the Washington Post that “a little bit of adversity never hurts to build a team,” and considering the rigors of an 82-game season, he’s likely correct.

As CSN Mid Atlantic notes, Barry Trotz understands the peaks and valleys of a lengthy campaign … but he still expects his players to buy-in.

“We’ve got the right elements to do what we can do. But there has to be a level of everybody [being] all in. You can’t be half in,” Trotz said. ” … You can’t let your foot off the gas in this league or you find yourself in a hole sometimes.”

Climbing that mountain once again

One can relate to the Capitals’ troubles in a way.

A negative type might feel a bit like Sisyphus here, wondering if it’s worth it to roll that boulder up a hill all over again after that playoff loss pushed them down. “We did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us,” as Alzner said.

Maybe the Capitals are over-thinking this a bit.

They have a few days off to ruminate on things, but the compressed three-game road trip coming up might be valuable in demanding all of their thoughts.

It’s tougher to find time for an existential crisis when you face three away contests in Western Canada during just four days. From the sound of things, it might be the perfect type of challenge for this group.