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Team Europe

Team Europe deserves respect in World Cup semifinal

Coaching, patience to play big role in matchup against Team Sweden on Sunday

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger won't push the underdog storyline heading into the semifinals of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 against Team Sweden, because he doesn't believe it anymore after watching his team play three games.

"We're deservedly in the semifinal in this tournament and the players deserve that respect back right now," Krueger said. "I definitely don't see us as an underdog against Sweden."

Maybe not, but the pressure to win is squarely on the shoulders of Team Sweden's players. They're representing one nation, a hockey-rich country with a history of success and gold medals at major international events. Team Sweden expects to win.

How does Team Sweden get it done against Team Europe at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (1 p.m. ET; ESPN, CBC, TVA Sports)? How does Team Europe, the new darlings of the World Cup and the surprise team in the semifinals, stop it from happening?

Be on the right side of the following five matchups, that's how:

Video: SWE@RUS: Landeskog buries PPG to open the scoring

 

1. Team Sweden's power play vs. Team Europe's penalty kill

The power play was supposed to be one of Team Sweden's advantages in the tournament. The best thing you can say about it so far is it hasn't been a disadvantage.

Team Sweden got through to the semifinals by earning five out of a possible six points in Group B despite going 1-for-10 with eight shots on goal on the power play.

Gabriel Landeskog's power-play goal was the deciding goal in a 2-1 win against Team Russia, but Team Sweden went 0-for-1 with two shots against Team Finland and 0-for-5 with six shots against Team North America. In fairness, center Nicklas Backstrom scored three seconds after a power play expired against Team North America.

"We haven't gotten the goals we expected out of our power play considering the personnel we have there, but I think we're creating goal scoring opportunities," Team Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said. "It'd be nice to get some goals out of that."

It won't be any easier against Team Europe, which has had a bend-but-not-break penalty kill.

Team Europe is 11-for-12 on the PK, allowing 33 shots. The shot total might be alarming and could fuel Team Sweden's confidence on the power play, but Team Europe didn't cave against Team Canada's power play. It went 4-for-4 on the PK with goalie Jaroslav Halak making 13 saves.

Video: EUR@CAN: Halak denies Marchand with great pad stop

 

2. Team Sweden's forechecking forwards vs. Team Europe's defensemen

When Team Sweden is on its game it's because its forwards are set in a forecheck structure, with a lead forward (F1 in coach terms) pushing the play to one side, creating the opportunity for one of the other forwards or one of its mobile defensemen to step up and create a turnover.

Team Europe's defensemen are going to have to find a way to beat the forecheck with quick puck movement and sharp puck placement. That might be an issue because they struggled with Team Canada's aggressive forecheck on Wednesday. Team Sweden undoubtedly noticed.

 

3. Patience vs. patience

This game could turn into a chess match where patience becomes as important as pressure.

As mentioned above, Team Sweden will try to attack on the forecheck, so it'll be on Team Europe's forwards to hang back in the zone to help out the defensemen. If they don't, a turnover could lead to an odd-man scoring chance.

Team Sweden's patience will have to come out when it has the puck in the offensive zone. Team Europe is going to pack it in, play five deep and not give up the middle of the ice. Team Sweden can't get caught trying to force anything. Simple sustained possession will work.

 

Video: USA@EUR: Kopitar mic'd up says we fooled them all...

4. Kopitar vs. Kruger

It's likely that Gronborg will try to match his checking line, featuring center Marcus Kruger, against Team Europe's top line, which is led by center Anze Kopitar.

It won't be easy for Kopitar and linemates Marian Hossa and Tomas Tatar.

Kruger, with linemates Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg, got the assignment against Connor McDavid's line 10 minutes into the game against Team North America on Wednesday and effectively shut them down, a big reason why Team Sweden came back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to earn a point in the game.

"I think we put a wet blanket over them," Gronborg said. "I think we did an excellent job of neutralizing that threat."

 

5. Gronborg vs. Krueger

The matching of wits on the benches will be fascinating to watch to anyone who keeps an analytical eye on the game.

Gronborg is a rookie coach with the national team. He has been on the bench for games in the Olympics and IIHF World Championship as an assistant and has been a head coach for Sweden in the World Junior Championship, but this is his first best-on-best experience.

Krueger, however, was the coach for Switzerland's national team for 13 years, including the Olympics in 2002, 2006 and 2010. He led Switzerland to arguably the greatest win in its history, defeating Canada 2-0 at the 2006 Torino Olympics.

So on one bench you have Krueger's experience backed by NHL coaches Paul Maurice (Winnipeg Jets), Brad Shaw (assistant, Columbus Blue Jackets), and on the other you have relative newcomers to this level with Gronborg backed by former NHL players Johan Garpenlov and Peter Popovic.

Gronborg, though, should feel confident after getting Team Sweden to play to its strengths after a brutal start against Team North America. 

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