Team Finland opened the round robin stage of the World Cup of Hockey against Team North America with a disappointing 4-1 loss. The perceived weaknesses of the team prior to the tournament showed up on Sunday night. Also, the Finns struggled in an area that was unexpected for a country with their reputation.
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne was given the first start of group play for the Finns. He beat out Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask after playing well in his two exhibition-game appearances.
On Sunday however, Rinne, was fighting the puck all night long. The 33-year old was under siege all night from the speedy North American offensive attack. With that being said, on numerous occasions, pucks squeezed through Rinne and he had poor rebound control throughout the evening. Team North America was able to capitalize on a few of those opportunities with goals and just missed capitalizing on much more.
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Now, the question for the Finnish coaching staff is where they go in the net for the remainder of the tournament. From the outside looking in, it would appear they have no choice but to turn to Rask against Sweden on Tuesday after Rinne’s poor showing. Rask has shown an ability to play well for Finland on the international stage in previous tournaments. The hesitation with the 29-year-old goaltender is his poor performance with the Bruins last season. Also, Rask struggled in his only appearance in the tournament against the Swedes last week with a .821 save percentage, giving up five goals on 28 shots.
This is an unusual situation for a country like Finland that is known for producing top-level goalies. The Finns need to come out victorious against Sweden in their next game or their hopes of advancing out of the group stage would nearly be done. Thus, making the decision in goal even more important.
The main concern heading into the World Cup was the defense group of Finland. That concern turned into reality Sunday night. The Finnish defense was dominated by the speed of Team North America. They were chasing the puck all night in the defensive zone and were unable to handle the transition game of the young-star team.
The inexperience I referenced in the Finland team preview last week was evident in the opening game. The defense group was forced to make quick decisions all night and routinely turned over the puck. Finland was leaning heavily on top-pair defenders Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo Sabres) and Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins). Unfortunately, the pair had their worst game of the tournament.
Team Finland will have to hope the young pair can rebound, along with Anaheim Ducks blueliner Sami Vatanen, for their next game. Team Sweden doesn’t offer the same speed threat as Team North America, but they’re a much more experienced club.
The next matchup against rival Sweden is huge for Finland. It’s a must win game and a loss combined with a Team North America victory over Russia would mean the end of the tournament for the Finns. Their third and final game against the Russians would be meaningless at that point. We’ll see if Finland can rebound and keep their hopes of advancing alive.