Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Schelling, Muller hot again

In a rematch of the 2014 Olympic bronze medal game, the Swiss beat Sweden 2-1 to come first in Group B. Goalie Florence Schelling set a new Olympic wins record.
Schelling, the 2014 Olympic MVP, surpassed Canada’s Kim St-Pierre as the all-time wins leader with the ninth of her career. The Swiss have won three straight games in Korea.

Of her record, Schelling said: "I don't pay attention to it at all. I'm not here to break any records or anything. I'm just here to be the best goalie I can be for the Swiss team and make history with the team."

Alina Muller scored her Olympic-leading sixth goal and added an assist to help ensure Switzerland will face the fourth-place Group A team in Saturday’s quarter-finals – either Finland or the Olympic Athletes from Russia. After suffering its first loss, Sweden will battle the winner of the Finland-OAR game in the other quarter-final.
Muller, 19, is now three goals away from the single-Olympics goal record of nine set in 2010 by Canada’s Meghan Agosta and Switzerland’s Stephanie Marty.
Phoebe Staenz got the third-period winner, plus an assist, while blueliner Christine Meier had two helpers. For Sweden, Anna Borgqvist had the lone goal.

"I think there’s an advantage coming from Group B," Staenz said. "In Sochi we lost all the group games, won the most important game and got into the semis and the bronze medal game. Two wins got us a medal, and now we have three wins already. It’s huge for our confidence, we know we can do it. We know we can win and there’s nothing to worry about, rather than going into a huge game without winning anything."

It was the first time Switzerland and Sweden have faced each other in Olympic competition since the dramatic 4-3 Swiss victory on 20 February, 2014 in Sochi. That gave Switzerland its first Olympic hockey medal since the Swiss men got bronze in 1928 and 1948.
In front of 3,545 spectators at the Kwandong Hockey Centre, Switzerland outshot Sweden 47-34. It was a physical, penalty-filled affair in which every goal came on the power play.

"We need to work on our defence," said Borgqvist. "We also have to be better when we’re going to score. I think we are too easy when we go into the zone. We don’t shoot enough, we don’t crash the net. But I know we have enough to beat either the Russians or the Finns."
During a scoreless first period, both Schelling and Swedish starter Sara Grahn looked sharp. Schelling had to be alert to foil Sabina Kuller’s shot off the rush and close-in rebound attempt. After Muller slipped past fellow teen and Swedish defender Maja Nylen Persson, Grahn made a great glove save.
Staenz was shaken up after taking a Muller slapper off the inside of her knee during Switzerland’s first power play, but kept going.
In the second period, the Swiss dialed up the pressure, hemming Sweden in for long stretches. Staenz kept battling, putting the puck off the post on a shorthanded rush and drawing a minor on the same sequence after Lisa Johansson upended her.
On the ensuing power play, Muller finally broke the deadlock at 13:51 with a devastating one-timer from the bottom of the faceoff circle, set up slyly by Meier.
In the final minute of the second period, Grahn kept Sweden in it when she stoned Lara Stalder on a shorthanded breakaway.

The Swiss continued to sacrifice their bodies in the third period. On the penalty kill, Stalder was shaken up along the boards in a heavy collision with Swedish forward Hanna Olsson's posterior.

The pain increased moments later when Borgqvist went to the front of the net to tip Olsson's feed high past the Swiss goalie at 7:45.
But the Swiss struck back less than four minutes later. They took a 2-1 lead on the power play when Meier skimmed a perfect pass to Staenz on the doorstep and she tipped it into the open side.

"It was important," said Staenz. "We had quite a few power plays. Every now and then the shot came through there and I couldn’t get my stick on it. And then finally I just told myself: ‘It’s going to come there, you have to be ready for it.’ And finally I was!"

And that was all it took. Sweden pulled Grahn for the extra attacker with just over a minute left, but to no avail.

"When I scored I felt we had a good chance to beat them, but they’re a good team and when they scored on that PP it was tough for us," said Borgqvist. "But we’re a good team too, we kept fighting and we were so close to making it 2-2."

2018 team preview: Hendrick Motorsports


Manufacturer: Chevrolet 
Engine: Hendrick Motorsports
Drivers:  Chase Elliott No. 9; William Byron No. 24; Jimmie Johnson No. 48; Alex Bowman No. 88
Crew chiefs: Alan Gustafson (Elliott), Darian Grubb (Byron), Chad Knaus (Johnson), Greg Ives (Bowman)
2017 standings: Elliott, 5th in final standings (eliminated in the Round of 8); Johnson, 10th (eliminated in the Round of 8); Byron won the Xfinity Series championship; Bowman did not compete in the Monster Energy Series; Kahne, 15th (eliminated in Round of 16, drove the No. 5 car); Earnhardt Jr., 21st (drove the No. 88 car)
What’s new: Half the team. Johnson assumes the sole veteran role as newcomers Byron and Bowman join the four-car team. Twenty-two-year-old Elliott moves to No. 9 from No. 24 and Byron slides into the No. 24. Bowman takes over driving the No. 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It’s so wild. I went from the young gun … and every time I saw my name written, it was ‘rookie Jimmie Johnson,’ ” Johnson said at the 2018 NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “And I swear, in the blink of an eye, now I’m ‘Grandpa.’ It’s gone fast.”
What to watch: Chase Elliott showed he is the presumptive heir to the Most Popular Driver throne, and that he can do it with the feisty chip on his shoulder he showed in his Martinsville battle with Denny Hamlin. How far can the lineage, potential and talent take him in what should be his breakthrough season?
Key question(s): There are a lot of them: This season has to be the one where Chase Elliott earns his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, right? Can William Byron continue his upward trajectory at the sport’s highest level? Will Jimmie Johnson adjust after a frustrating 2017 and earn that “Eight-Time” nickname? How will Alex Bowman fill in for the sport’s most popular driver?


Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet: Here we are in Chase Elliott’s third full-time season in the Monster Energy Series, and somehow the young driver still is searching for his first win at the top level. Prognosticators say this is the season when it happens, and the trend in statistics seem to support that belief.
Elliott’s first two seasons saw verifiable improvement: He went from an average finish of 14.6 in 2016 to 12.0 in 2017. He had 17 top 10s in 2016, 21 top 10s in 2017; 10 top fives two seasons ago, and 12 top fives last season.
Still, the big “zero” remains under the win column. But he’s returning to his familiar No. 9 — the number his father, Bill, drove for the majority of his Hall of Fame career — and showed more of an edge in both his driving and personality in the final races of the 2017 season. His first trip to Victory Lane almost certainly comes this season.
William Byron, No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet: A young hotshot with loads of potential in the No. 24? This sounds familiar.
William Byron takes the wheel in his first Monster Energy Series season on the heels of an Xfinity Series championship in 2017. Byron has been dominant at every level in which he’s competed the last two years: Four wins, 22 top 10s and a championship last season in Xfinity; seven wins, 16 top 10s and a heartbreak ousting in the Camping World Truck Series Playoffs in 2016.
Can he show the same flair at the sport’s highest level? Only time will tell, but it sure will be fun to watch.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet: By Seven-Time standards, 2017 was a subpar year for Johnson.
Granted, he still won three races, finished in the top 10 11 times and was only ousted from the NASCAR Playoffs in the Round of 8.
But those totals also were among the lowest in his career. Johnson has only had fewer wins once (two in 2011) and has never had fewer top 10s over 16 years of full-time driving in the Monster Energy Series.
He and crew chief Chad Knaus never quite figured out how to succeed in the new stage format — he had one stage win the entire season, and finished 10th in stage points in 2017 — and that will be a key to him succeeding as he strives for his record-setting eighth championship.
Even though he’s now 42 years old, you still can’t count out the talented, experienced and crafty Johnson.
“My desire to be competitive, my desire to be a champion, my desire to win races has never wavered,” he said. “That’s who I am. That’s what I am.”
Alex Bowman, No. 88 NationwideChevrolet: For a guy who team owner Rick Hendrick thought was named Alex Baldwin for a couple years, the 24-year-old Bowman is doing all right.
First, he earned honor of taking over the No. 88 from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Then, he went out and earned the Daytona 500 pole.
Bowman doesn’t have a ton of experience — one full season in the Xfinity Series (2013) when he tallied six top 10s — but that also means he doesn’t have excessive expectations.
Still, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the talent to compete in his first full-time season at the Monster Energy Series level. In fill-in duty for the No. 88 in 2016, he won the pole in Phoenix and led 194 laps in that race before eventually finishing sixth.
Time will tell whether all those fans with No. 88 gear will switch over to being Bowmanfans, too.

Speed star!

Team USA's Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson scored twice in six seconds to set a new Olympic record for speedy scoring as her team beat OAR 5-0 in Korea.

Three points from Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson steered the USA to a 5-0 victory over the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The result confirms that the Americans and Canadians will both advance directly to the semi-finals.
And her second-period blast of two goals in six seconds set a new Olympic record, bettering the 16 seconds that Caroline Ouellette needed to notch twice against Italy in 2006. The goals came just after the midway point of this game, and effectively ended the Russian resistance as the USA jumped to a 3-0 lead.
"They told me it was a record back there, but I had no idea," she said. "I guess whenever you're able to score two quick goals like that, whether it's one player or back-to-back shifts from a different line, it just adds to the momentum. Scoring two quick ones like that is pretty cool, I don't think I've ever done it before."
Lamoureux-Davidson's first was a family affair to make it 2-0, with Russian goalie Valeria Tarakanova left cursing her luck after a solid block on Monique Lamoureux-Morando’s shot dropped kindly for Lamoureux-Davidson to capitalise on hesitant defence and put the puck away.
And the goalie had more grounds for anger at her team-mates from the face-off. OAR won the draw, but two players got tangled up over the puck and Lamoureux-Davidson nipped in to steal possession and win a one-on-one duel with Tarakanova.
"There was a rebound on the first shot and it came through at the back door and I barely got that one in, then from the face-off I think their D just kind of miscommunicated and I was able to poke it through and walk in with quite a bit of space," the goalscorer added.
For the OAR team, which now faces a quarter-final encounter with either Switzerland or Sweden, this game echoed its opening match-up against Canada. For a long period the Russians were able to frustrate their opponent, but in the end the extra pace and power of the Americans told and the final scoreline was comfortable.
Much of that early resilience was down to netminder Tarakanova and a hard-working defence. The goalie set the tone early with a fine pad save to deny Hilary Knight after Megan Keller’s deflected shot offered the forward a wideopen net to aim for.
"I knew I'd face a lot of shots from the Americans, it's never easy to play against them," said Tarakanova. "I stopped everything I could."
But the early American pressure got a reward after eight minutes when Lamoureux-Davidson fed Kacey Bellamy in the right-hand circle. A shot through traffic left Tarakanova unsighted, and the USA had the lead.
But that was not the beginning of the end. A hard-working display from the OAR team limited the Americans to just seven shots in the first period: a repeat of the 13-0 scoreline from the countries’ only previous Olympic meeting never felt likely.
Indeed, there were hints that the Russians might even make a game of it. Yevgenia Dyupina drew a good blocker save from Nicole Hensley at the start of the second period, and Diana Kanayeva also tested the American goalie. But the bulk of the action was still at the other end, with Tarakanova making another good pad save to deny Dani Cameranesi. The same player then saw a looping shot clip the crossbar, prompting a big scramble as Tarakanova lay sprawled across her crease.
Then came that game-breaking double blast, and a fourth goal wasn’t long in coming. Gigi Marvin slid the puck home after Amanda Pelkey’s shot was blocked, spelling the end of Tarakanova’s evening. Nadezhda Morozova, who started the game against Canada, came into the action with just over 25 minutes to play.
Morozova produced a great save early in the third frame to deny Lamoureux-Davidson a hat-trick, and was saved by a video review in the 51st minute. Hannah Brandt thought she had scored when she swatted home the rebound from her own shot, but the video showed the American forward steered the puck into the net with her hand. Brandt eventually got her name on the scoresheet in the 59th minute, wrapping up after Cameranesi's rush into enemy territory.
Next up, the Americans face Canada in a battle for top spot in Group A - and potentially a psychological edge at the sharp end of the tournament. Like any encounter between the neighbours, there's plenty riding on it. "We want to win that one," said Lamoureux-Morando. "We want to be the number one seed here. We want to see where we are against them right now. Those are the games you really get up for, it's a great rivalry and a great test."
While the USA can look forward to its place in the last four, the Olympic Athletes of Russia are in urgent need of boosting their offence. For the second time in three days, Alexei Chistyakov saw his team shut-out at the Kwandong Hockey Centre. More worryingly, the Russian players have managed just 29 shots in those two games.
"We are creating some half-decent chances," captain Olga Sosina insisted. "But somehow our finishing isn't quite there. All of the forwards need to think about how we've played in the two games up to now, so we can do better against the Finns and turn the minuses into pluses. 

Canada carries on

Remembering last year’s loss at the Women’s Worlds, Canada came out firing on all cylinders and took advantage of some weak defence by the Finns, winning 4-1.

The result moves Canada to 2-0 at these Olympics. With the loss, the Finns fall to 0-2.

Shots favoured Canada 32-23, but the margin of dominance was much greater excpet for a few brief moments in the third when Finland played its best. Still, the game was a disappointment for the Finns given how well they played against the U.S. in a narrow 3-1 loss two days ago.
"We played a solid 60 minutes, the whole team last game," said Finnish forward Riikka Valila. Okay, USA had the puck possession, and they are a really good team, but we could keep up with their tempo and really try to win the game. But today we weren’t even close."
"I think the team’s in a good spot right now," offered goalie Shannon Szabados. "We have some amazing forawrds with some poise and some patience and some great shots. I’m not really surprised with what they’ve been doing. We’ve just got to keep that moving forward."
Canada got just the start it needed, scoring on the first shift of the game. Isa Rahunen made a bad pass coming out of her end, and it was picked off by Melodie Daoust. She was quickly joined by Meghan Agosta to create a two-on-one, and Daoust’s pass across was perfect. Agosta counted the goal at 35 seconds.
"I just thought that the defenceman was coming for me, so I tried to hang a little bit more to drag that goalie out of her crease, and Agosta was just coming off the post with her stick down, which we talked about a lot with the coaches. She did that perfectly," Daoust said of the goal.
"I think the biggest thing with Noora being an experienced player and having played her a lot in the past, it’s getting to her early," Agosta noted. "She played a really good game, but I just think the biggest thing for us was getting at her early and burying those chances that we had."
Although the Canadians were the better team, Finland didn’t lay down in easy defeat. It battled physically all period long and nearly tied the score midway through when Rosa Lindstedt wired a shot off the post in behind Shannon Szabados.
The Canadians added a second goal on a tough break for another Finnish defender, Jenni Hiirikoski, the best in the world at her position. Skating out in front of her net, she looked up ice at the exact moment the puck hit a pebble in the ice and bounced over her stick. Marie-Philip Poulin was right there and made a nice move on Raty before back-handing a high shot in for a 2-0 lead.
"There are no excuses," Hiirikoski said. "Canada was really good today, and we weren’t there in the beginning. We had two really difficult periods."
Canada thought it had scored a third goal with 4.5 seconds left in the period, on a power play, but video review denied the goal.
Relentless can’t begin to describe Canada’s continued play in the second. The Olympic champions made it 3-0 all the same at 8:18 off a nice pass to the middle by Laura Fortino to Daoust. She faked a shot to give her a clear view of Raty, then snapped a low drive to the stick side.
Then, at 18:26, the Canadians made it 4-0, capitalizing on a bad line change by the Finns. Jillian Saulnier went in alone on Raty and hit the same spot as Daoust on her goal a few minutes earlier, the 4-0 score line now giving the team plenty of breathing room.
Riikka Valila got the Finns on the board at 7:17 of the third off a scramble in front. The 44-year-old is now the oldest woman to score a goal in either the Olympics or Women's Worlds. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for Suomi.
"We didn't play well in those first two periods," Valila said. "But we really talked in the second intermission that we had to step it up. We could do it. It was good we got those last 20 minutes in a good way. But that’s not enough when you play against Canada, for sure."
Soon after Valila's shutout-breaker, Susanna Tapani showed Morenz-like speed, flying past two Canadian defenders through the middle to create a breakaway only to be stoned by Szabados in the end.
Coach Pasi Mustonen pulled Raty with just under four minutes to play, but the extra skater had no effect on the game's outcome.
Canada finishes its round robin with a much-anticipated battle against the United States on Thursday afternoon, after which the Finns play the Olympic Athletes from Russia. All four nations in Group A advance to the playoffs, but these games will determine which earn a bye directly to the semi-finals and which have to play an extra game in the  quarters.