Sweden and Russia meet up on Sunday in World Cup of Hockey round robin action in what should be the most tightly contested game of the tournament to date.
The Swedes head into this tournament looking to regain top spot of the international hockey podium and while they have a bit of an aging group up top they have perhaps the best defensive unit in the tournament and a goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist who is still at the top of his game. Sweden will look for a bit tournament out of Daniel and Henrik Sedin who could be coming to the end of their tenure with the national team but they have some great pieces to pass the torch to as Gabriel Landeskog, Nicklas Backstrom, and Filip Forsberg are waiting in the wings. Defensively, Sweden is stacked with the likes of Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, and Niklas Hjalmarsson manning the point against a Russian side that is desperate for a major tournament win.
Russia returns to the international scene once again with a huge offensive arsenal as the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Vladamir Tarasenko make up a core of very explosive forwards as well as reigning Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin who will look to make an impact in his first stint with the senior side. Defensively, Russia is very thin and only possess one right handed shot which could be a cause for concern for them on the power play and in transition distribution from the back end and they will have to rely heavily on their goaltending to keep them in games. Russia carries the same aura about them into this tournament in that they should be able to score goals but will have trouble keeping them out and in a tournament opener against a well balanced Swedish side they could be in an early hole. This should be a very exciting match up and while I like the forward group of the Russians a little bit better I think the blue line of Sweden will be the difference here as the Swedes edge out Russia in a very close game to start round robin play.