Finland continued their impressive tournament today, defeating Slovenia by a score of 4-0 on goals by Leo Komarov, Petri Kontiola, Aleksander Barkov, and Joonas Kemppainen.
In the opening frame, Finland came out with heads full of steam. They dominated possession for most of the first 40 minutes, but their play was most dominant at the start of the game. In the first period alone, they took 82.3% of the shots, outshooting Slovenia 14 to 3.
This impressive play can be attributed to both the Finnish offense and defense. Their offense was cycling the puck better than they had in any game yet this year. At many times, it seemed as if they were playing on the powerplay, rather than at even strength. One key to the entire game for Finland was short passing plays and quick pivots in order to gain entrance to the Slovenian zone.
These short passing plays and quick pivots were most evident during the Finnish powerplay. While they often did not get set-up in a typical umbrella powerplay, as they have in prior games, they were still able to move the puck effectively. As they entered the zone, one quick pivot was often enough to get by the Slovenian defense before a few short passes would result in a good scoring chance on net.
On the defensive end, Finland employed a similar strategy to what they had used in their prior wins over Denmark and Norway. Rather than sitting back and waiting for Slovenia to enter the zone, as Slovenia did to them, they put significant puck pressure on the puck carrier in the neutral zone. This pressure prevented effective zone entries, led to neutral zone turnovers, and prevented good scoring chances.
However, when Slovenian star Anze Kopitar was on the rush, the Finnish defense changed their tactic flawlessly. Rather than pressuring Kopitar in the neutral zone, they allowed him to gain the zone, but covered all of his passing options. This freed up five Finnish players to cover four Slovenians, while entrusting goaltender Pekka Rinne to stop a Kopitar shot from a low-danger zone.
Many, including myself, originally doubted this strategy; Kopitar is known for an occasional end-to-end rush, and not pressuring him heavily may have given him the room to put a puck past Pekka Rinne. Nonetheless, taking away his options was a risk worth taking, as Rinne pulled out a few good stops on Anze Kopitar, and the lack of passing options limited shots from other Slovenian players.
This combination of effective offensive and defensive performance, noticeable throughout the game, made the continuation of a shutout streak even easier for goaltender Pekka Rinne. Recording his third shutout in a row, Rinne has not allowed a goal in more than 191 minutes of play.
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