COLOGNE – Ask any forward in a scoring slump, any coach behind a low-scoring team’s bench, or, for that matter, anybody who’s ever been in touch with a team that’s struggled with scoring, and you’ll hear them say the same thing. There’s nothing to worry about as long as they can create chances.
Finland coach Jukka Jalonen is no exception. According to the Finnish coaching staff’s statistics, Finland has out-chanced its opponents in every game of the tournament. And that’s why he’s not worried about the fact that his team has only scored seven goals in four games, and four in the three games that count in the qualification round standings.
He’s not worried about the fact that only Kazakhstan is behind Finland in scoring efficiency - 149 shots and 7 goals for 4.70 percent - because they do get chances and because they’ve got their wins even without getting scoring from Jussi Jokinen or Antti Miettinen. Jokinen scored 30 goals and 65 points in 81 NHL regular season games with the Carolina Hurricanes, while Miettinen got 20 goals and 42 points in Minnesota.
“We’re not going to shuffle things too much just to get Jussi going. You never know what can happen, maybe moving him to another line would just get the entire team out of balance,” Jalonen says.
And at this stage, he doesn’t want to rock that boat.
Slovakia hasn’t been lighting the red light too much, either. The nation known for players with offensive flair has five goals in their three games against the qualification round teams.
“When we talked about what defines a Slovak player, the first thing, to a man, was “transition game”. That’s about speed and being just on the edge of defence and offence. As soon as the puck changes hands, we’re gone. My philosophy has changed a lot, but I still believe that when we don’t have the puck, it’s 100 percent team play. Everybody in the right position, five in each zone. If the puck’s in defensive zone, I want five guys there, nobody waiting at the red line,” head coach Glen Hanlon says.
“Every single time you get criticized for being known for defence, all you have to do is look at what the championship coaches say. They always say that defence wins. It just makes good sense. There are only a couple of teams that can win here by being explosive but for the most part, most of the countries have to play good, solid defense,” he adds.
Getting the players to buy into the system gets easier with each win.
“Most of the players, when you really sit down and talk to them, just want to know what their responsibility is. The key is to keep the level the same from the top line to the 13rd forward,” says Hanlon.
But, one hot forward can also be the difference. The Finns hope that it’ll be Jussi Jokinen but they'll be happy if Jarkko Immonen keeps on scoring. He leads the team with three goals.
"That just shows the sorry state of our offence. If I'm the leading goal scorer, we have to come up with something," Immonen joked after netting the winner in the game against Belarus.
Slovakia, on the other hand, added Miroslav Satan to the team, hoping he will bring some offence to their game. The 35-year-old forward scored five goals and ten points in 13 playoff games with the Boston Bruins. His three game winning goals lead the league in the post-season.
Finland needs at least a point in their game against Slovakia or Russia to clinch a playoff berth. The team is also playing for a chance to stay in Cologne as the team finishing third in Group E will play their quarterfinal in Mannheim. A win over Finland would help Slovakia in their battle for a spot in the quarterfinals, but their most important game comes on Tuesday: a win in the game against Germany – even in overtime or a shootout – gets them through.