Czech comeback falls short, Sweden wins Olympic opener 4-2


A four-goal hole proved too much for the Czech Republic to dig out of on Wednesday, as it dropped a 4-2 decision to Sweden in the tournament opener for both teams.

The Swedes scored four times in the game’s first 21 minutes and withstood a spirited Czech reply to earn all three points. Tre Kronor’s dynamic defensive pair of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson led the way, combining for four points — two goals from Karlsson, two assists from Ekman-Larsson — while team captain Henrik Zetterberg scored what proved to be the game-winner just 51 seconds into the second period.

Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr replied for the Czechs, while Patrik Berglund scored the other Swedish goal.

The Czechs, widely criticized for roster selections heading into Sochi, made a series of head-scratching decisions prior to today’s game that left many wondering how much it affected the outcome. Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec didn’t start — heck, he didn’t even dress — as the Czechs opted to go with KHL netminder Jakub Kovar, who was hooked after allowing three goals on 10 shots.

Kovar was replaced by Alexander Salak, who played well in stopping 14 of 15 shots faced.

In other eyebrow-raising choices, the Czechs scratched Phoenix center Martin Hanzal from the lineup and distributed ice time in bizarre fashion. Forward Ales Hemsky and Ladislav Smid didn’t play a single shift in the opening frame — Smid ended up with zero ice time, Hemsky finished with just 6:58. Ottawa forward Milan Michalek was also sparsely used, getting just 6:46 TOI.

That said, the Czechs did turn it on after falling behind 4-0. The team threw several shots towards Lundqvist in the final frame, but the Swedish netminder stood tall, stopping all 17 shots faced in the third. Lundqvist finished with 27 saves on 29 shots overall.

Notes: Sweden was the only team to capitalize on the man advantage, as Karlsson’s second goal of the game came on the power play… Zidlicky played the most of any player, earning 26:56 TOI… Alex Steen led all Swedish skaters with 19:27.

Kassian suspended without pay, placed in Stage 2 of Substance Abuse Program

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks
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Zack Kassian may have avoided major injuries stemming from his Sunday car accident, but it likely sent the signal that he may need help.

The response: he was placed in Stage Two of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH) of the NHL and NHLPA on Monday.

According to the league’s release, Kassian “will be suspended without pay until cleared for on-ice competition by the program administrators.”

Speaking of being suspended without pay, here’s a key detail:

The 24-year-old ended up with a broken nose and broken foot from that accident. The 2015-16 season was set to be his first campaign in the Montreal Canadiens organization after a tumultuous time with the Vancouver Canucks.

Kassian spoke of becoming more mature heading to Montreal, but the Canadiens were critical of his actions, wondering how many wake-up calls someone can get.

In case you’re wondering about the difference between stage one and two:

Add Lecavalier to list of expensive Flyers healthy scratches

Vincent Lecavalier

Are the Philadelphia Flyers aiming for some sort of record when it comes to expensive (potential) healthy scratches?

While lineups are obviously subject to change, CSNPhilly.com notes that Vincent Lecavalier appears to be among a rather rich group of Flyers who are expected to sit during their season-opener.

Also likely to be in street clothes: Sam Gagner and Luke Schenn.

That’s $11.3 million in cap space rotting on the bench.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Lecavalier said. “I’ll practice hard and be ready when they call me up.”

The CSNPhilly.com quotes from Lecavalier, Gagner and Schenn only get sadder from there, a reminder that there are human beings attached to these numbers – whether you focus on disappointing stats or bloated salaries.

Flyers fans with the urge to reach for an Alka-Setzler can at least take some comfort in knowing that the team will see $6.8 million in savings after this season, as both Gagner and Schenn are on expiring deals.

It could be a long season, though, and this Lecavalier headache may not truly end until his contract expires following the 2017-18 campaign.