MANNHEIM – Sweden had little trouble defeating Latvia, 4-2, tonight at SAP Arena. Four different goalscorers contributed to the victory while Martins Karsums had both Latvian goals.
The win gives Sweden six points and a place in top spot of Group F with Switzerland and Canada, although the Swiss have a game in hand. Latvia remains in sixth and last place with no points in three games.
"We let the game slip away," Latvian defenceman Janis Sprukts said. "We made it easy for them. They have a lot of speed from their forwards, and we couldn't shut them down."
"It was a pretty good game for us," Henrik Pettersson suggested. "We got the three points and have time to work on a few things now."
The game started out at a feverish pace, the first minutes packing more action into it than much of the rest of the game. It began with Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson picking up a rebound in his own end and going end-to-end to open the scoring. He simply blew by defenceman Georgijs Pujacs and slid the puck along the ice as Edgars Masalskis fell sideways to give Sweden a 1-0 lead just 31 seconds into the game.
On the ensuing faceoff, the Latvians replied. This time Sprukts made a nice pass from the side of the net to Karsums, and his quick shot to the far side surprised Markström. Only 56 seconds from the opening faceoff the game was tied, 1-1.
Four minutes later the Swedes took the lead again when Oliver Ekman Larsson’s harmless-looking wrist shot from the point made its way through traffic in front past a screened Masalskis.
Tre Kronor upped its lead to 3-1 at 14:30 on a beautiful three-way passing play off the rush. The attack ended with a great pass by Rickard Wallin back to the trailer on the play, Mikael Nylander, who walked in and drilled a great shot to the stick side of Masalskis. The play started with a pass coming over the blueline from Christian Backman.
The Swedes dominated the second period and Markström had precious few difficult saves to make in the middle 20 minutes. At one point, Tre Kronor had the puck in the Latvian end for about four minutes solid.
During this time, Fredrik Pettersson enlivened the proceedings when he had the puck behind the net and tried to score a lacrosse-style goal. That is, he flipped the puck onto the blade of his stick and tried to stuff the puck in the short side. Masalskis got his shoulder and head over to the near post in time to keep the puck out, but full marks to Pettersson for originality and entertainment.
"It's something I've tried before, but tonight the goalie saw me I think and was able to get over. But I was in a good position to do it, and if I see the chance I'll try it again."
The Swedes were content to play puck-possession hockey, and the Latvians had no seeming answer to cut into the lead. But five minutes into the third period, Markström muffed a routine play that allowed Latvia back in the game. Karsums came off the left side and barged in on goal, jamming the puck between Markström’s pads.
The puck trickled behind the goalie who then knocked the puck over the goal line in trying to squeeze his pads. This made for a more interesting finish than what Sweden had hoped for given their significant territorial and shots advantage in the game.
Tony Martensson finished the scoring late in the game with a bullet slapshot just inside the blueline that caught Masalskis napping.
Both teams play next on Sunday. Latvia plays Norway in the afternoon followed by Sweden-Canada.
"We played a pretty good game tonight," Pettersson said, "but we still have a lot of little things we have to work on. We're much better as a team today than we were a week ago, but we still can improve."