Two days after posting the result of the tournament so far with a 5-4 win over Team Russia, the Czech Republic took to the ice once again on Thursday, facing a Swedish team with their eyes on a gold medal.
Both teams were able to show off some of the offensive skill they possess in the opening minutes, but it was clear from the outset that Sweden was the better team. The first period was mostly played in the Czech’s end, with the Swedes holding most of the possession.
One of Sweden’s rushes up the ice led to a power play, as Petr Kodýtek attempted to slow the breakout by slashing the hands of his check. The skill was apparent as the Swedes passed the puck around the offensive zone on the five-on-four, but there was little movement from the players, and Czech goaltender Jakub Škarek was able to get in position to stop the telegraphed shots.
Sweden was much more creative at even strength soon afterward. Holding the puck behind the net, Timothy Liljegren whipped a pass to the neutral zone, with Glenn Gustafsson picking it up near the offensive blue line. The puck went to Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, who drove past the side of the net before turning and passing to the slot, where Marcus Davidsson simply had to get the puck around the goaltender to open the scoring.
A similar penalty as first for the Czechs sent Safin whacking at the stick of a puck-carrier. This time the lack of player movement on the power play didn’t matter for the Swedes, as Elias Pettersson launched a rocket of a shot just under the crossbar to make it a 2-0 game.
The second period was a 180° turn for the Czechs, as they were the ones able to hang onto the puck. As a result, the team was able to put their first real pressure on netminder Filip Gustavsson. They had several great chances to get themselves on the board in the opening half of the period, even hitting the crossbar with a point shot off a faceoff win.
They always seemed to be just slightly behind the play, with a glorious scoring chance right there for the taking but a pass just missing, a shot being blocked at the last second, or, in the case of Filip Zadina, not anticipating the play and having a chance at a wide-open net go awry as by not anticipating a perfect pass.
Zadina got his redemption in the final minute of the period, posting up in the right faceoff circle and getting all of the puck that came his way from, connecting on the one-timer from Martin Nečas to make it a 2-1 game.
Great pass from Martin Necas sets up Filip Zadina pic.twitter.com/IUGAza5rW5— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 28, 2017
The Czechs had a power play carry over to the third, and just seconds into the final frame went up two men after a tripping penalty to Sweden. The issues with being just slightly out of phase with the flow of the game that plagued then in the second showed up once again, as they were unable to take advantage of the opportunity to tie the game, with passes just out of reach of their intended target.
Škarek came up with an incredible save immediately afterward to ensure that the Czechs stayed in the game. But Sweden got a power play on the same shift, and Alex Nylander fired a shot from right in close that went five hole to give his side a two-goal edge. The projected first overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft, Rasmus Dahlin, recorded his second assist of the game on the play.
Down by two, the Czechs continued to press for some offence, but to their credit the Swedes didn’t simply sit on their lead waiting for the clock to run out. Both teams were getting chances in the middle part of the period, with no indication from the play that one team had a two-goal advantage.
In the end, neither side was able to add to the tally on the scoreboard, with Sweden coming away with a 3-1 win.
Sweden takes a 2-0 record into the meeting with Switzerland on Saturday, December 30. The Czechs can feel good about their game despite the loss, and should find better success against Team Belarus in that day’s first action.