A brilliant Mikael Granlund made the first five shine, but otherwise it was a very tough effort the Lions made against Latvia. No one should have been surprised. This is what it usually looks like.
Overall impression: Shaky – as usual against Latvia
We start the analysis by going straight to the point, directly on the steak: It was a victory and three points with the numbers 2-1 – but this was not a good effort by the Lions.
The flow that the team found during the last two periods of the match against Norway was blown away. In addition to the first five games, it was completely mediocre by Finland. Puck loss in own zone, crazy passes, wrong decisions, lack of creativity and bad rhythm in the attacks, which led to strange difficulties to even get into the offensive zone and create the persistent pressure that is the Lion’s brand.
Finland were a few minutes away from losing points against Latvia, and it was certainly not about the guests’ star goalkeeper Elvis Merzlikins having to stand on his head and shine with 50 saves. The lions simply created too little.
On the other hand: No one should be the least bit surprised. This is how it usually is against the Latvians. Finland has played ten World Cup matches against Latvia and seven of them have been decided by the odd goal.
When Finland became world champions in 2011, the Lions lost points against the Latvians, the same thing happened to the silver team last year. And the Lion team that finished second in the World Cup in 2014 even lost. Not even the Olympic team that won all the matches last month had it easy against Latvia, but also in Beijing the match was a draw with five minutes left.
Sure, Finland was pale, but this is not a worrying trend. Only about an opponent who seems to fit rarely badly. Fortunately, this year’s match is eliminated.
The decision: MG in PP
If we ask the Latvian team, the answer to the question “what decided?” rare clear. The judges.
After the final whistle, a whole bunch of Latvian players arrived at the North American referee pair and complained about their line and above all the decisive expulsion. And of course it also felt cheap with blue and white eyes.
But with 3.20 left of the third period and 1-1 on the board, Martins Dzierkals went out in two minutes and Mikael Granlund did not need much more than that this evening.
The Latvians had full control to stop Granlund in games with 5 against 5. In numerical disadvantage it was not possible. “MG”, which had already played until Finland’s equalizer in powerplay, decided according to a manuscript that had been ready from the stands in Tampere for a couple of hours. Granlund held the puck, waited, pretended to pass and pushed the pulley behind Merzlikins.
The Latvians think about what could have been, the Finns move to thinking exclusively about what is to come.
World Cup atmosphere: Hey Baby and Liverpool fans
Friday’s premiere mood went under the epithet “good, but by no means magical”. Saturday’s headline may be “a little better than last Friday”.
The crowd seemed to enjoy getting some resistance and did not keep quiet when Finland ended up at a disadvantage, on the contrary, the players got a nice grandstand support and the spectators did their part for the turnaround. Beautiful so.
The World Cup audience’s habit of starting a sing-along with DJ Ötzi’s “Hey Baby”, however, I’m a little unsure of. Personally, I might have also managed without the man in the Lion Sweater who stood up and shouted “You’ll Never Walk Alone” eight times when he found out the result in the FA Cup final.
Speaking in his own way. After all, this was a match where it was still good to sit in the arena and concentrate on other things. On Monday and Wednesday, it will probably be more focused, also in the stands.
The snack ice cream: Missed due to the post
Hardly anyone remembers it after the final signal, but we did not become more than a few centimeters from a really classic own goal.
Finland had been sent off in the first period and the Latvian goalkeeper left his cage in favor of an extra outfielder. A Latvian back pass went crazy and the puck was on its way to its own empty goal, before it hit the outside of the post.
The rules say that own goals in cases like this must be approved if no Finnish player has been involved in the sequence and pushed the situation forward. Here, the judges had probably interpreted the situation as the Latvians completely on their own initiative beat the puck into their own net, and therefore approved the goal. If it had been done.
Question mark: Where did the shots go?
Va? Two shots on goal ???
We read that right. Finland’s first period was nothing but a mystery. Large puck possession, but only two poor shots on goal in 20 minutes. Two shots in a whole period. Towards Latvia. On home turf.
What Jukka Jalonen emphasized in the first break is hardly a secret and in the second period the Lions shot eleven times towards goal.
The third period figure was seven and a total of 20 shots is of course far too few, with the first period figure as a hard-hitting bottom note.
The Lion Kings:
Three stars: Mikael Granlund
Sometimes it felt a bit like watching the Finnish national football team during the years when Jari Litmanen was at his best and the rest of the national team at his worst. Mikael Granlund was on a different level than the other players, by far the best in the Lions, from the first minute to the last.
It would have been completely understandable if a jet-lagged Granlund had needed some time to get into the rhythm and find the feeling in the big rink. Now he instead dominated completely from the first change.
Mikael Granlund in the home WC 2022 will be an attraction. Fasten your seat belts and we’ll go, this will be fun.
Two stars: Sakari Manninen
Did his part to keep up with Mikael Granlund’s carousel and contributed to the first chain being the Lions’ by far best team.
Showed proof of lightning-fast game perception when he nicely put in the equalizer from a small angle and got a pass point to the winning goal.
Has scored points in the tournaments that gave the Lions World Cup gold and Olympic gold respectively and with Granlund by his side, Manninen is said to be very high in the points league even when this tournament is over.
One star: Mikko Lehtonen
The defender who clearly contributed the most in the offensive game. During the last two periods, the player who got the most ice time when the Lions tried to turn the deficit around and take full points.
Shined on the blue line in Finland’s first powerplay quintet and got 0 + 2 from Saturday night.
Was the tournament’s best defender already in the World Cup three years ago and seems to be heading for something similar now.
Continuation: Tough task against the strengthened United States
In connection with Finland tearing hard against Latvia, a playable USA presented a novelty that greatly increases the team’s chances of succeeding in the World Cup.
From Minnesota Wild joins three players who make the American team clearly better: Strikers Ryan Hartman and Matt Boldy as well as defender Jon Merrill are probably already with against the Lions when next week starts.
That meeting will be a big test for Finland. The match picture will be completely different from the one against Latvia and in its own way suits Finland better. But there will not be any simple points for the home team on Monday night. Either.