Finland has scored 14 goals in two games, but Finnish coach Erkka Westerlund wants to make one thing very clear: They still face an uphill battle against Canada on Sunday.
“We are underdogs,” Westerlund said, according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.
That’s the role the Finnish want to be portrayed in and they’ve been pushing on their team since before the tournament started.
“It’ll be all about team. That’s our strength and we love to be the underdog,” assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen said last week. “We’re going to bite everybody’s ankles and not let go — that’s the only way we’re going to be successful.”
And it’s an easy sell because it also happens to be true. While they have managed to win cleanly against two opponents that weren’t highly regarded going into the Olympics, there’s no question that Canada is the far better team on paper.
The only area where the Finnish were supposed to be at par with the Canadians was in goaltending and that’s oddly enough been Finland’s only blemish so far, courtesy of a shaky performance by Tuukka Rask in the opener.
It doesn’t help matters that Finland might have lost forward Aleksander Barkov to a lower-body injury on Friday. The Finnish team is already missing Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula.
At the same time, especially in a short tournament, the team with the most skill isn’t always the victor and while Finland beating Canada would be an upset, it wouldn’t be a shock. After all, even if Finland is theoretically below Canada, they’re still one of the top hockey nations and a legitimate contender. The gap between them exists, but we’re talking about hills instead of mountains.
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.
Read more about his rise here.
In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).
Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.
See it for yourself:
Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.
He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.
Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.
Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:
No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.
The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.
Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?
He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.
Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.
The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.
He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.
With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.
Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?
Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: