Would Russia beat Finland if…
Russia was my pick to win silver. My bad, I guess. GVT pegged them in fourth place.
I agreed with GVT and had Finland ranked sixth in the tournament. Things got worse for Team Suomi with injuries to Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, and Aleksander Barkov. But the gutty, gritty (channeling John Sterling there) Finns pulled out a 3-1 victory today against what is now a devastated home side.
I didn’t state it “out loud” anywhere, so you will need to take my word for it, but I thought Russia looked tight in the USA game – though, mind you, they would have won that contest 3-2 if it wasn’t for the international rule/loophole that disallowed the Tyutin goal in the third*. Anyway, home ice may have been more of a disadvantage than an advantage to Russia in that sense. That was in the mix today.
*So remember that, by the way, everyone who is saying that the US has been the best team in the tournament.
But the big question for me is what would have happened if Russia had started Sergei Bobrovsky, last year’s Vezina winner, and objectively, their best netminder. I am not saying Semyon Varlamov was a bad choice; he just wasn’t the best choice. And I did tweet that out there as the game was starting. You could pretty much say that Bobrovsky and Rask would have been a wash; as it was, Russia’s coach surrendered an advantage to Finland. And as I mentioned in the Twitterverse, the job of a coach – and it is this simple – is to maximize his team’s chance to win.
I decided to post my thoughts here after an email exchange with our Ryan Wagman, which was mainly discussing which results would have changed in the play-in portion if they had been seven-game series instead of one-and-dones.
Applying the same what-if question to Finland vs Russia, would the Russians have won a seven-game series? I tend to think yes, maybe four games to three. But that is a different question than this: would Russia have won the majority if this game was hypothetically replayed seven times? And my answer changes: I say Finland wins the majority, maybe four games to three. The reason? The goaltending choice. If you play this game seven times over – starting Varlamov over Bobrovsky each time – I think what you saw today was the most likely result, because of Finland’s goaltending edge negating any edge at skater for Russia. At the very least, you can see that it is a different proposition than the seven-game series, wherein a coach can learn from his mistakes.
The related thought is about the Russian, Czech, and Slovak teams, all of who made strange choices in goal as well as at skater. I don’t know if there is any relation here to being managed and coached by old schoolers from another era (and yes, we have them in North America as well). I wonder if, flawed as some of their choices may be, the brain trusts of the other major teams aren’t ahead of where these three teams are. The world of hockey is changing, and my sense is that not everyone has kept pace.
By the way – since it was asked on Twitter – if the coach didn’t want to start Bob in back-to-back days, the solution had to be starting Varlamov yesterday against Norway. The goal here is to win four games in a row, not to blindly win one and then hope for the best down the road.
Timo Seppa is Editor-in-Chief of Hockey Prospectus, one of its founding authors, an author and editor of all four of its annuals, a long-time contributor at ESPN Insider, and a frequent guest on NHL Network Radio’s The War Room.
Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.