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February 12, 2014

Sweden's Blue Line Key To Third Olympic Crown?

Sweden opened the 2014 Sochi Olympics men's hockey tournament with a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic.

The Swedes jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the game was halfway through. The Czechs cooperated by getting off to a terribly sluggish start. They found their legs in the second half of the game and made a game of it by scoring 2 goals.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson
The stars of the show were the high-octane defensive pairing of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, two of the best defensemen in the world. They dominated offensively, with Karlsson scoring two goals and "OEL" Ekman-Larsson 2 assists.

Karlsson is no secret to NHL fans, of course. He won the Norris trophy as the NHL's best defenseman in 2012. The Ottawa Senators rearguard is the most offensively gift blueliner in the game.

OEL is a better kept secret as he plays in relative anonymity in Phoenix. But he has a presence about him that guarantees his own Norris trophy win in his future.

Whether Sweden decides to keep the two young dmen together all tournament will be interesting. They are undeniably dynamic players but they are still susceptible to making rushed mistakes when under pressure. Sweden may opt to break the two apart, which they may look at by the final preliminary game when Alex Edler returns from IOC suspension.

Sweden's blueline is rounded out with Niklas Hjarmalsson, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Henrik Talinder and Johnny Oduya (insert Victor Hedman question mark here). But the keys will be Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson. It looks like they are being given the green light to create offense and take chances. There are dangers to this strategy, but Olympic champions take the chances.

Only Canada can boast a better set dmen. Not so coincidentally Canada and Sweden are my top two favorites for Olympic gold in 2014.

At this stage it remains to be seen which nation can find chemistry the quickest. Whoever accomplishes that gains a big edge on the competition in Sochi.

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