Olympic Hockey Odds and Medal Games Picks
by Trevor Whenham - 2/20/2014
The final four of the Olympic hockey tournament is a little bit shocking, and it was almost extremely shocking. Few people — least of all Vladimir Putin — expected the Russians to be done in the quarterfinals, yet they lost to Finland on Wednesday morning. Canada almost suffered a far more humiliating loss when Latvia’s goalie almost singlehandedly led his squad to one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history by making 55 saves. The Canadians pulled it out late with a 2-1 win, though. The Americans and the Swedes won easily to advance.
That sets up a slightly surprising semifinal, and it’s one that has long been anticipated. The Americans and Canadians will meet up in a rematch of the classic gold medal game in Vancouver that Canada won. The U.S. has looked like the strongest team in the tournament so far, but this is the biggest test they have faced yet. Meanwhile, Scandinavian pride will be on the line when Sweden and Finland meet in the other semifinal for the chance to play in, and quite likely lose, the gold medal game.
When you set out to handicap the last three games of the tournament (I’m excluding the bronze medal game because motivation is so hard to judge in that one, making it very unattractive for betting), here is a big question you need to ask yourself about each of the remaining squads as well as my picks for what will happen (odds to win the gold medal are from Bovada):
Can Canada (8/5 to win the gold) score?: Canada’s defensemen have been playing by far the best of any unit in the tournament. It’s not even close. Good thing, too, because the forwards for this team have been just lousy. Aside from a natural hat trick by Jeff Carter in the Austria game, they just haven’t been able to get anything going. Chemistry has been a particular issue. Sidney Crosby is the best player on the planet, but for the second straight Olympics they have really struggled to find someone to play with him, and that has had a ripple effect through the lineup. There is more offensive talent and depth on this team by far than any of the other three remaining teams, but it won’t matter if they can’t find their confidence and score some goals. It really feels like the dam could break at any point once things get rolling, but that means that they need to get on track early against the Americans and then maintain the momentum. The likelihood of that happening in your eyes will determine how you bet on this game.
Is the U.S. (9/5 to win) defense good enough?: Offensively the Americans have been playing very well in this tournament. They run into by far the best defense they have seen when they meet Canada, though, and that is going to put massive pressure on the offense. To avoid adding further to that pressure, the defense needs to make sure that the scoring slump for Canada continues. Unfortunately, the defense was by far the biggest area for concern for the Americans heading into this tournament, and despite their success so far they haven’t really done much to alleviate those concerns so far. Canada isn’t scoring, but they did manage 57 shots against Latvia, so they can apply pressure. If you don’t believe the Americans can deal with that effectively defensively then it would be tough to bet on them in the semifinal. If the defense can perform at a high level, though, then it will be hard for them not to win gold.
Does Finland (13/2 to win) have enough healthy bodies?: The Finns have been hit hard by injuries up the middle, as they have had three centers go down. That combined with a lack of depth coming into the tournament, and some age issues in key positions, explain why they are, by a wide margin, the longest shot left on the board. Of course, after Wednesday morning it’s hard to know how to judge this squad. Their weaknesses seemed to play right into the strengths of the Russians, yet Finland looked in control throughout en route to their improbable win in front of a very hostile crowd. They don’t seem to have what it takes to win two more games, but then it didn’t look like they would get this far, either.
How good is Sweden (16/5 to win)?: It’s an odd situation — the Swedes are the top seed in the elimination rounds, and they have cruised to this point in the tournament, yet we really have absolutely no sense of how good they might be. Their group in the round robin portion of the tournament was by far the easiest, with Latvia, Switzerland and a badly-struggling Czech team the opponents. Slovenia in the quarterfinals was no more of a test. This team is heading into the semifinals without having played a really challenging opponent, then, so we have no real way of assessing where they are at or how ready they are for what lays ahead of them. They get credit for looking so strong in the games they have played, but on paper they don’t seem to have what it takes to beat the winner of the other semifinal. They are by far the toughest team to assess at this point in the tournament.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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