Sweden has long been considered one of the favorites heading into these Olympics in Sochi. But after it lost another key player to injury, the advantage in these Games could be shifting elsewhere.
Sweden captain Henrik Zetterberg will miss the remainder of the Olympics with a herniated disc in his back and is returning to Detroit for evaluation.
It’s a significant loss for Tre Kronor, which was already without veteran center Henrik Sedin (rib injury) and veteran Johan Franzen (concussion) when the tournament began.
The Swedes’ depth up front, particularly the number of centers, was one of their biggest strengths, but without both Zetterberg and Sedin the Swedes have lost that abundance of playmaking riches. Against Switzerland Friday, the Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom remained between Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson, while Patrik Berglund was promoted to Zetterberg’s spot where he played alongside Alexander Steen and Gabriel Landeskog. (Zetterberg’s absence also allowed Washington’s Marcus Johansson to make his Olympic debut on what in theory you can call Sweden’s third line, between Daniel Alfredsson and Gustav Nyquist.)
That top six is still impressive, evidence of Sweden’s depth coming in to Sochi. They also have an experienced, mobile defense that can change the course of a contest, a game-stealing goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist and plenty of big-ice savvy.
At the very least, though, Sweden seems a little vulnerable now that they’re without their captain.
Sweden claimed a 1-0 win over Switzerland Friday when Alfredsson scored with 7 minutes 11 seconds remaining in regulation. It could be a blueprint for Tre Kronor moving forward, as Lundqvist recorded a 26-save shutout, many of those stops of the outstanding variety, to buy Sweden time to crack Swiss netminder Reto Berra, who stopped 30 of 31 shots.
That victory all but sewed up the top spot in Group C and the qualification-round bye that goes with it. But once Sweden is out of group play and into matchups against the rest of the top contenders, this injury-ravaged squad will have to match up against the teams that now have equal or even stronger depth up front. That might be all the opening an upstart United States squad, Canada or Russia needs to advance further in the tournament.