Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Men's Olympic Hockey Quarterfinal Preview

Group B #4 USA (1-3-1) vs. Group A #1 Finland (5-0) 11:35 AM ET - The Americans finally looked to shake themselves out of their funk in today's game versus Russia, pushing a very talented squad to the limit, before falling 5-4. Unfortunately, I don't think this late resurgence will be enough to handle the seemingly unstoppable Finnish squad.

If the Finns can break out to an early lead, this game will be over quickly, as the Finnish defensive system and relentless puck pursuit has proved to be too much for anybody to handle. Finland managed to hold their opponents to an unheard of two goals during the five game round robin, including four shutouts.

Expect a big game from Rick Dipietro, but ultimately, the Finns should prevail, 4-2.

Group B #3 Sweden (3-2) vs. Group A #2 Switzerland(2-2-1) 10:35 AM ET - Sweden hasn't yet played to their full potential. On paper, this is a total mismatch. After big-game wins over Canada and the Czech Republic by Switzerland, expectations have risen. I'm not sure which Swiss goalie to expect. Both Aebischer and Gerber have had their moments, and it was Gerber who stole the show against Team Canada with a 49-save shutout.

With Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin, Markus Nasland, Niklas Lidstrom and the Sedin Twins, Sweden just has too much firepower not to prevail in this one. At the same time, Sweden managed to lose to Belerus in the quarterfinals during the last world cup, so anything can happen. Expect a 6-3 win by Sweden.

Group B #2 Russia (4-1) vs. Group A #3 Canada (3-2) 2:35 PM ET - This is the blockbuster matchup we've all been waiting for. Too bad it had to happen in the first round of the quarterfinals. Watching video highlights from today's Russia-USA matchup, with highlight-real goals from Malkin, Ovechkin and company makes me nervous. Russia is an insanely skilled team.

Team Canada has yet to register a full game to be proud of. The 3rd period against Switzerland was the best I've seen them play, outshooting the opposition 24-1, but Martin Gerber was somehow able to keep them off the scoresheet.

If Canada is to win this game, they are going to need a heroic effort from Martin Brodeur. Brodeur had an amazing game today against the Czech Republic. They are also going to need a total team effort, which is something they have yet to display in this tournament. They need to play like Team Finland, beating opponents to the puck and winning the battles against the boards. This game is really a tossup, but I'll give the edge to Canada, 4-3.

Group B #1 Slovakia (5-0) vs. Group A #4 Czech Republic (2-3) 3:35 PM ET - Both of these teams are dangerous offensive units. The Czechs are led by the ever-dangerous Jaromir Jagr, and a maturing quarterbacking defenseman in Tomas Kaberle, who no longer appears to be afraid to shoot the puck. Slovakia has the second-most dangerous line in the Olympics, with Hossa, Gaborik and Demitra -- arguably more skilled than the Finnish line, but without quite the same level of production and chemistry.

Tomas Vokoun gives the Czechs an edge in goal. Slovakia doesn't really have a consensus #1 goalie - they have started three different goalies who have all played well. I would expect Peter Budaj to get the nod.

While the talent levels on these two teams are comparable, Slovakia has been playing much better as a team. Expect Slovakia to prevail 5-3.


Finland 4 - USA 2
Sweden 6 - Switzerland 3
Canada 4 - Russia 3
Slovakia 5 - Czech Repulic 3


Men's Ice Hockey Olympic Quarterfinal Schedule

I had trouble finding the schedule for tomorrow's lineup, so I thought I'd share it with you. Schedule courtesy of Sports Illustrated

10:35 AM ..... Sweden vs. Switzerland

11:35 AM ..... United States vs. Finland

2:35 PM ...... Canada vs. Russia

3:35 PM ...... Czech Republic vs. Slovakia

Michael Farber from SI.com previews the matchups here.


The Sleeping Giant Awakes

Well, sort of...

Canada scored it's first goal in three games, roaring out to a 3-0 lead over the Czech Republic in the first period. The scoreless draught ended on a weak wrister from the blueline by Brad Richards. Canada followed it up with a powerplay goal by Martin St. Louis from a very weak angle, and then a powerful slapshot from a wide open Chris Pronger to open up a three goal first period lead. From that point on, Canada played just well enough to manage to hold on to the lead, thanks in large part to a heroic goaltending effort from Martin Brodeur. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't anything to be too confident about, but Canada managed to break a two-game winless streak.

On second thought - maybe Canada was trying to lose :) The win pushed Canada up to third place in the Group standings. They tied Switzerland with 6 points each, but since Switzerland beat Canada in head-to-head play, the Canadians took the third seed, drawing Group B Second seed juggernaut Russia. This is not exactly the first round opponent either team wants to face.

Earlier today, Team Sweden's coach suggested that they would consider losing on purpose to avoid drawing Team Canada in the quarterfinals. If Canada lost, they would have fallen to fourth in the conference, and drawn a 5-0 Slovakia team, which isn't much of an upgrade.

Team Finland continued their stupendous play, shutting out Germany 2-0, and improving to a perfect 5-0. In the five game round robin, Finland gave up a total of 2 goals, outscoring their opponents 19-2 and registering 4 shutouts. In addition, the top scoring line for Finland, Lehtonen, Koivu and Selanne have combined for 11 goals and 26 points in 5 games. Selanne and Koivu are tied for first in scoring in the Olympic tournament, while Lehtonen is fourth in tournament scoring. I believe the Finnish powerplay and penalty kill are both ranked first in the tournament.

Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson got his wish, as the Swedes fell 3-0 to Slovakia to draw Switzerland in the quarterfinals. The International ice Hockey Federation sent Kalervo Kummola, chief of the Finnish Hockey Association, to watch the game ensure that nothing fishy occured. I didn't get a chance to watch the game, but after losing 5-0 to Russia earlier in the week, I'm not sure that Sweden has what it takes to win this tournament.

USA finally put up a fight, but the Russians proved too strong, prevailing 5-4 in a close-fought match. The fact that USA managed to put up a fight against the Russians means that the USA-Finland quarterfinal tomorrow should at least be interesting. Backup goaltender Maxim Sokolov played the game for Russia, and gave up 3 goals on 26 shots. Robert Esche gave up 5 goals on only 21 shots, which doesn't sound so hot. Look for Dipietro to be back in the net in the quarterfinals. To Esche's credit, the Korolyuk goal was on a breakaway, the Malkin goal was on a huge two-on-one break, Markov was wide-open and had all the time in the world on his goal, and the Ovechkin-Malkin play was a beautiful one-timer. I wouldn't blame Esche on any of those - Russia is a scary-talented team. The only goal Esche should have had was the blistering slapshot by Kovalev from the point.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Men's Hockey Olympics Overanalysis

The scheduling of men's' hockey games has been a little bit inconvenient for us North Americans. So far, I've been successful in catching all of the Team Canada games by taping the games, and watching them when I get home from work in the evening. I'm frustrated at the possibility of missing the quarterfinals and semifinals, since all six games take place during the work day. Depending on when Canada/Finland plays in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, I might try to go in to work at 5:00 AM on those days, so I can watch the game from home in the afternoon. If it's a 10:30 or 11:30 AM start, I'll plan on taping the game, and watching it when I get home in the evening

The schedules won't be determined until Tuesday afternoon, since it depends on the final round-robin positions. Finland is almost guaranteed to take the #1 seed in group A, pending a win over Germany, and will play the #4 seed in Group B, which is almost certainly going to be USA. My guess is that game will be at 3:30 PM, because USA seems to always get the preferred time slot to allow Americans a chance to get home from work to catch the 3rd period.

If Canada loses against the Czechs on Tuesday, they'll be the #4 seed, which means they'll play either Slovakia or Sweden, depending on who wins the Sweden/Slovakia game. If Canada wins against the Czechs, they will most likely get the #3 seed, as I'm guessing Switzerland will beat Italy to take the #2 seed. With the #3 seed, they will play the #2 seed in group B, meaning they will face one of Slovakia, Russia, or Sweden. My guess is Canada will get the 2:30 PM time slot on Wednesday no matter what happens, based on the same reasoning as I mentioned above to determine Team USA's time slot.

Based on the reasoning above, here is my guess at the final round-robin standings:

Group A

#1 Finland 5-0
#2 Switzerland 3-1-1
#3 Canada 3-2
#4 Czech Republic 2-3

(Out: Italy (0-1-4) and Germany (0-2-3))

Group B

#1 Slovakia 5-0
#2 Russia 4-1
#3 Sweden 3-2
#4 USA 1-3-1

(Out: Latvia (1-3-1) and Kazakhstan (0-5))

***Note: Latvia is not mathematically eliminated yet. If Latvia wins against Kazakhstan, and USA loses to Russia, of which there is a very good possibility, they will finish with identical 1-3-1 records. Since USA and Latvia tied when they played each other, the tie-breaker will be decided based on goal differential. Since USA is +1 and Latvia -15, a sixteen goal swing needs to take place. The odds of this are about one in a million. Latvia plays at 5:30 in the morning on Tuesday, while the USA-Russia game is at 2:30 in the afternoon. If Latvia, which has scored a total of 9 goals in the tournament, manages to pile on the offense, and blow out Kazakhstan 10-0, they get to wait until the afternoon, and hope that Russia defeats USA by at least six goals. Again, the odds of this are about one in a million, so there isn't much point in even mentioning it, but I'm all about trivial pursuits.

Based on these standings, the quarterfinals schedule should look something like this:

Quarterfinals (Wednesday)

Quarterfinals, 10:30 am et (My Guess is Switzerland vs. Sweden)
Quarterfinals, 11:30 am et (My Guess is Slovakia vs. Czech Republic)
Quarterfinals, 2:30 pm et (My guess is Canada Vs. Russia)
Quarterfinals, 3:30 pm et
(My Guess is Finland vs. USA)

Semi-Finals (Friday)

Semifinal, 10:30 am et (I'll pencil in Finland vs. Sweden)
Semifinal, 3 pm et (I'll pencil in Canada vs. Slovakia)

Bronze Medal Game (Saturday)

Men: Bronze Medal, 2:30 pm et (Sweden vs. Slovakia)

Gold Medal Game (Sunday)

Men: Gold Medal, 8 am et (Canada vs. Finland)


Canada Looks a Little Rusty - Finland looks Unstoppable

The was a very well-played game by the Finns. Selanne was a monster in the first period - he was all over the ice. He scored one goal, and almost had two more in the second, with one bouncing on top of the net, and drawing a penalty on the second when he got tackled by Adam Foote when he was all alone in front of the net.

Finland has now outscored the opposition 17-2 in 4 games, and should close out the round-robin with a perfect 5-0 record, since they are facing a relatively weak German team on Tuesday.

There was a stark difference between the Canadian powerplay and the Finnish powerplay. It's like the Canadian players aren't used to running a powerplay on the international ice surface. If you watched the Finnish powerplay, they had the opposing defenseman spread out over the entire offensive zone, and had Canada scrambling.

On the final Canadian powerplay, it was the Canadian offensive players that were scrambling, trying to find a once of breathing room, while the Finnish defenders hustled to pressure the play, succesfully preventing Canada from getting set up at all.

Canada has one non-elimination game remaining before the quarterfinals, and they better have their act together by Wednesday. It doesn't get much easier, with Tuesday's tune-up game against the Czech Republic.

As far as Canada goes, they've now been shut out for 124 consecutive minutes. They have one tune-up game remaining, against the Czech Republic on Tuesday. They need to spend some serious time working on their powerplay and their breakout. Once Finland got out to a 2-0 lead, they played the trap to a perfection, and limited Canada to a few quality scoring chances. When Canada did manage to have a quality scoring chance, they were stopped, first by Martin Gerber yesterday, and by Antero Niitymaki today.

It takes three straight wins from the quarterfinals on in. At the moment, Finland looks like they are by far the most prepared and best-coached team in the Olympics, and they are now the gold medal favorites. We could see a Canada-Finland matchup again in the Semi-Final or Final. I fully expect Canada to break out of their slump on Tuesday.


They're doing everything but putting one in the net

What a chance that was for Thornton's line. The Finns are playing a rprevent defense, doing their best to limit the "huge" scoring chances, but the Canadians are surging. If Finland catches the Canadians pressing too hard, they're going to end up with a few odd-man rushes of their own. Canada needs the next goal, or it's game over. Canada needs to learn how to play with this intensity for the full game -- the first periods for Canada have been very weak.

Niitymaki looks amazingly focused, and it's going to take a great tic-tac-toe play to beat him, which is tough, given the prevent defense the Finns are playing.


Great 3rd Period Coming Up

Wow - great pace to this game so far. What a stop by Niitymaki on Nash' breakaway - I thought Canada was getting to get on the board for sure with last year's leading NHL goal-scorer in on a clear-cut breakaway. Canada has now been shut out for five straight periods.

Selanne played another strong period. He had one shot bounce up and land on top of the net. It looked like he was going to score midway through the period when he received a pass in front, and was making his way to the far side of the net, when he was tackled from behind by Adam Foote.

I have no idea what to expect going into the third period. Canada is not going to get shut out. Expect at least 18 shots from the Canadians, and at least two goals. I expect the final score to be 3-2, going either way. Look for a goal from the Canadians in the first three or four minutes, as they will come out flying.


Finland brings it in the 1st

Shots are 14-5 Finland after the first period. My favorite player, Teemu Selanne is all over the place, playing the best hockey of his career. Selanne now has 6 goals/2 assists for 8 points early into the fourth game of this tournament. The Finns are also getting great production from Jere Lehtinen, Saku Koivu and Olli Jokinen. After outworking, out-hustling and out-muscling the Canadians in the first period, Finland is up 2-0.

Finland has now outscored their competition 17-2 after 10 periods of play. If they can hold off and win this one against the Canadians, they instantly become the favorites to win the Gold medal.

As a second-generation Canadian with a Finnish heritage, I'm torn on who to cheer for in this game. I really want Canada to defend the gold medal after winning the gold medal for the first time in a seriously long time in 2002. When you look at the rosters, Canada has far-and-away the best looking team, but for some reason, Finland has gelled as a team much quicker. Finland is playing "North American Style" hockey, and plays their heart out every single shift.

Antero Niitimaki's Goals Against Average is below 1.00, and his save percentage is above .960%. You don't win championships without solid goaltending, and the Finns have that. Brodeur and Luongo have both played well enough, but the Canadians have had a tremendously difficult time scoring. The Canadian players must still visions of that Gerber glove save haunting them every time they take a shot.

I fully expect Canada to break out in the second period, with a flurry of activity. They did it yesterday, exploding for 24 shots in the 3rd period alone, but failed to register a goal. They simply have too much talent too be kept off the scoresheets. This game will be close by the end, and I expect it to finish in a one goal victory either way.

With the close to Russia, Kazakhstan is now eliminated from quarterfinal contention. The only team with a theoretical shot of making it in is Latvia. With a win over Kazakhstan, and a loss to Russia by USA, the teams would finish tied. The tie-breaker would be goal differential. USA has a +16 advantage on Latvia, so unless Russia seriously blows out the Americans, Latvia has no shot of making it in.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Finland takes a 4-2 lead

Selanne scored his tournament-leading 5th goal of the tournament to make 3-2, and the Jere Lehtinen scored his second of the game to give them a 4-2 lead with 11 minutes to go in the third. The Finns have switched to a frustrating defensive poise that has forced the Czech Republic to try and stretch out their passes, resulting in a huge advantage in odd-man rushes. Finland has had five odd-man rushes in the game, while the Czechs have only one. At this point, we should expect Finland continue to patiently play their defensive game, while capitalizing on any chances the Czechs give up trying create some offense.


Slovakia wins 2-1; Finland and Czech Republic tied 2-2

Slovakia wins 2-1, and improves to 3-0. With wins against USA and Russia, Slovakia has to be considered a serious medal contender. I pegged them at sixth at the beginning of the tournament, since I didn't think Peter Budaj to be a top-flight goaltender, and I thought their defense looked a little suspect. Slovakia has games against Swedan and Kazakhstan, and could end up being the only team with an unblemished 5-0 record going into the quarterfinals. Currently, Slovakia and Finland are the only teams remaining in the tournament with a perfect record.

With the loss USA, now has 1 win, 1 loss and 1 tie, for three points in three games. With only two tough games left on their schedule against Swedan and Russia, the American team needs to be careful. The only need to finish in the top four to make the quarterfinals, and they aren't in any serious risk of being passed by Kazakhstan or Latvia, but their record so far is a cause for worry. If Kazakhstan had managed to steal a point from Russia today (they lost 1-0), I might been a little more worried. Latvia probably has the best chance of jumping into the quarterfinals, although they would need a win against Kazakhstan, at least a tie against Russia, and hope that USA loses their last two games. Actually, the either need a tie against Russia, or a massive blowout against Kazakhstan, as the tie-breaker with the USA would be based on goal differential. Currently, USA is +2 and Latvia is -8. I suppose if USA gets blown out by both Russia and Sweden, Latvia has a chance to squeak in without managing a tie against Russia. I don't think Kazakhstan, Italy or Germany hae any hope of making the quarterfinals. As it stands, it looks pretty certain that the teams making it in will be, although the seeding is still to be decided:

Group A

Czech Republic

Group B


I'm watching the Finland-Czech Republic matchup now, rooting for the Finns. Finland tied it up 1-1 midway through the first, when Florida Panthers captain Olli Joikinen tapped in a pass from Montreal Canadians captain Saku Koivu on a 2-on-1. Koivu did a great job selling the shot and freezing goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

There was a scary moment in the second period of the Finland-Czech Republic matchup. Jaromir Jagr, arguably the NHLs best player, went down in a big hit by Jarkku Ruutu. Jagr's head was down, so he was in a vulnerable position. Jagr's helmet came off, and has a nasty cut somewhere on his head. The announcers said that Jagr was wearing a non-standard helmet that the NHL would not allow a player to use.

They called a 5-minute boarding major and a game misconduct on Ruutu. It was a relatively clean hit, so I'm not sure the penatly is entirely warrented - it was an unfortunate situation - the reason Jagr got hurt was that he was bent down at the waist, and had his head near the boards. Hopefully, Jagr will be alright.

USA is down 2-1 with 3 minutes to go in the third. Both games have been fast-paced and entertaining so far.

Midway through the second period, Finland scored on the powerplay to take a 2-1 lead. Dallas Stars forward Jere Lehtinen just snuck one by, allowing the Finns to take a 2-1 lead.

Finland just got two penalties called against them, and the Czechs tied the game 2-2 on the two-man advantage.


An upset of Olympic proportions!

This is the first time that Switzerland has ever beaten Canada. Two goals for Sault Ste. Marie native Paul Dipietro, and an insane performance by goaltender Matrin Gerber, was the difference. The crowd just unveiled a huge Swiss flag that is covering half the crowd.

Summary of the upsets and surprises so far in these Olympic Games:

Switzerland 2 - Canada 0 (Upset Rating: 10 / 10 - Canada outshot the Swiss 24-1 in the 3rd period alone, but it wasn't enough. Two Canadian goals were disallowed by the ref, but give the Swiss a well-deserved win)

USA 3 - Latvia 3 (Upset Rating 9 / 10 - A team with only one NHL player, goaltender Arters Irbe, managed to tie an NHL All-Star Team)

Russia 1 - Kazakhstan 0 (Surprise Rating 8 / 10 - just the fact that this game was so close is a huge surprise to me)

Switzerland 3 - Czech Republic 2 (Upset Rating; 8 / 10 - This Swiss team is for real)

Slovakia 5 - Russia 3 (Upset Rating 4 / 10 - The Slovaks have a talented lineup, but they shouldn't really be considered to be on the same level as the Russian team)

Switzerland is through the toughest part of their schedule (Finland, Czech Republic, Canada) with an amazing 2-1 record. Now, they get two relatively easy games, against Italy and Germany. The 5-0 win over the Swiss by Finland now looks huge. With the way Martin Gerber played today (49 save shutout), you have to seriously consider the Swiss as a medal contender.


Is it a goal?

Is it a goal? Sure seems like it - it's been under review for the past five minutes, with no sign of a call. The video evidence is inconclusive, as you can't see the puck inside of Gerber's glove. It should count as a goal, but without video evidence to make the call, I don't think they can rule it a goal. It's either 2-0 or 2-1 for the Swiss. Either way, Canada is putting on the pressure, and it looks like they have finally decided to play.


A break for the Swiss

The Swisis just got a break. Canada managed to get a puck by the goalie, but the ref blew the whistle as the puck was crossing the goal line - NO GOAL. The call was made because Bertuzzi was in the crease - It's the first time I've heard that rule called. Canada has put up some intense pressure in the past two minutes - it looks like they've finally decided that the Swiss can beat them if they don't play like they are capable of. A powerplay coming up for Canada, and I think they're finally going to put one on the board.

The Swiss goalie, Martin Gerber is on fire - The third period is going to be awesome!


Canada is in tough

Canada generally dominated the play in the first, and outshot the Swiss 11-5 in the first period, but they couldn't find a way to beat goaltender Martin Gerber. This looks like it is going to be a tough game for the Canadians to pull out - I still can't imagine the Canadians losing this one, but the Swiss have impressed me so far, and Gerber is the kind of goalie that can come up with a 40-save shutout.

Almost half-way through the second period, still down 1-0, Canada is about to face a 5-on-3 disadvantage. This is going to be a interesting day.

USA and Slovakia meet at 2:00 PM - Slovakia is 2-0 after their surprise win over Russia.

Finland and the Czechs play at 3:00 PM - The 5-0 win over the Swiss by the Finns earlier this week looks even more impressive after watching the Swiss beat the Czechs 3-2, and Canada have a tough time with them here in the first. If Finland manages to pull out another win today against the Czechs, I think Canada better be worried about tomorrows matchup with Finns.

Earlier today, Russia barely squeeked by Kazakhstan 1-0. I've never heard of the guy before, but Kazakhstani goalie Vitaliy YEREMEYEV managed to stop 49 out of 50 shots to keep Kazakhstan in the game. Italy and Germany tied 3-3.


Men's Olympic Hockey Roundup

I'm looking forward to an exciting weekend of Olympic hockey. The highlight of the weekend for me will be when Canada and Finland play each other at 3:00 PM on Sunday. It looks pretty certain teams are going to easily make it past the round-robin. I'd say this is the most intriguing round-robin game left on the schedule. Finland is the only team in the tournament that hasn't given up at least a goal. Both of the Finnish goalies have a shutout. Selanne is leading the tournament in both Goals (4) and Points (5). Canada hasn't been seriously challenged as of yet, although we'll have to wait and see what the Switzerland has in store for the Canadians tomorrow morning.

Here is my list of the remaining round-robin games worth watching:

Canada vs. Switzerland, 9:30 am et (Saturday 2/18) - Canada should win this game easily. The Swiss are usually the "best of the rest" - just a small step below the elite seven teams in the tournament, although they seem to have been slowly closing the gap over the past few years. Switzerland usually plays a fairly tight-checking close game, so the scores usually remain close. The 3-2 win over the Czechs earlier today was huge for the Swiss program. I expect Canada to win this game either 4-1.

Slovakia vs. USA, 2 pm et (Saturday 2/18) - USA responded well today after a hugely disappointing tie with Latvia, with a 4-1 win over Kazekstan. USA has three tough games left in their round robin schedule: Slovakia, Russia and Sweden. They might need to win two of those games to advance out of the round robin portion of the tournament. A loss against Slovakia would put USA in jeopardy of finishing in 8th place or worse :( Slovakia is no push-over - I had them seeded 7th at the beginning of the tournament, but they managed to beat a talented Russian squad 5-3. The forward lines on both of these teams is scary, although Slovakia is not as deep on defense or in net. Watch out for Marian Hossa, Bondra, Gaborik, Satan, Nagy and Stumpel on Slovakia.

Czech Republic vs. Finland, 3 pm et (Saturday 2/18) - This will be a big test for the Finn squad. After a 3-2 loss to Switzerland, and an injury to Dominic Hasek, the Czechs are ripe for the pickings. Jagr hasn't really stepped up and had a huge game yet, although he has carried the New York Rangers all season. I'd be mostly concerned about containing Jagr on the Czech squad, and preventing him from having a huge game. Selanne has been on fire early in tournament (4 Goals, 1 assist in 2 games), and it'll be interesting to see if he can keep up the same level of play.

USA vs. Sweden, 11 am et (Sunday, 2/19) - I was quite surprised to see Sweden go down so easily against Russia, getting shut out 5-0. Both of these teams have something to prove. With Peter Forsberg, the Swedes are not anywhere near as dangerous as they could be. Again, USA needs to pick up some points against Slovakia, Russia or Sweden, and this is probably their best chance to pick up a win.

Tuesday is probably the best day to stay home to watch hockey during the round robin, with three huge games, although I suppose you might want to save your day off for the quarterfinals on Wednesday, or the Semi-Finals on Friday.

Tuesday's lineup:

Canada vs. Czech Republic, 10:30 am et
Sweden vs. Slovakia, 2 pm et
USA vs. Russia, 2:30 pm et

Canada Vs. Czech Republic - Depending on how Finland plays against Canada and the Czechs earlier in the week, this game could well determine the #1 seed in Group A. I've downgraded my assessment of the Czechs after the injury to Hasek and the loss to Switzerland, although they are still a dangerous team with Jagr and a very capable Tomas Vokoun in net. Defenceman Tomas Kaberle scored twice in the opening night, after scoring just six goals all season in the NHL. Outside of Jagr and Kaberle, the talent level of the Czechs appears to be a little thinner year than at previous international events. Other players worth watching include Hejduk, Lang, and Straka.

USA vs. Russia - If the Americans can pull out wins against Sweden and Slovakia, they will assure themselves a spot in the quarterfinals. I'd hate to see USA forced to pull out a win against the Russians. The Russians probably have the purest offensive lineup in the tournament. Watch out for Kovalchuck, Ovechkin, Kovalev, Datsyuk, Malkin and Afinogenov. Ovechkin has quickly made a name for himself as perhaps the NHL's most talented player during his rookie year this season -- check out this collection of highlight real plays for an idea of what Ovechkin is capable of with this set of highlights, and then follow it up with this clip. The goal he scored sliding on his back is perhaps the best goal I've ever seen.

The Quarterfinals are on Wednesday. Semi-finals are next Friday, the bronze medal matchup is on Saturday, and the gold medal game is next Sunday.