Team Sweden is devilishly clever. Its players exude a quiet, calm confidence. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Sweden -- considered a perennial powerhouse among European teams -- will win the World Cup of Hockey. Its team is loaded with talent, depth, experience and goaltending. Pride is a major factor for Sweden, and its players have said time and again how badly they want to win this best-on-best tournament.
How Team Sweden could win
It starts with Henrik Lundqvist. The 34-year-old goalie has not played in a game since April 23, when he gave up six goals on 23 shots and was pulled after two periods in the New York Rangers' 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the series-clinching Game 5 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He took time during the summer to reflect and refocus his efforts to prepare to represent his country at the World Cup with the hope it will be a springboard to the regular season with the Rangers.
Besides Lundqvist, Sweden has the best overall defense corps in the tournament. The blue line of Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Erik Karlsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mattias Ekholm and Hampus Lindholm has the ability to dominate the opposition in every part of the game. Those players will also help offensively and can shut down any opposing offense in this tournament.
The top forward line of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Loui Eriksson has been outstanding. Beyond that trio, opponents also have to deal with Filip Forsberg, Nicklas Backstrom and Patric Hornqvist as a second line. Depth and puck possession are key for Sweden, whose special teams, especially the power-play unit, are major weapons. Karlsson will basically quarterback both units from the point, and the Sedins, Eriksson and Larsson will join him to make up the first power-play unit.
How Team Sweden could lose
If Sweden does lose, it will be at the hands of an extremely talented team. Opponents will try to limit the Swedes' puck-possession time. If Sweden doesn't have the puck, or can't get it -- or if Lundqvist isn't sharp -- that could be its downfall. With that in mind, the Swedes focused on winning faceoffs during the pretournament, so quickly gaining possession of the drop will be key.
Health is, of course, a factor for every team, but Sweden can't afford to lose anyone else. Before training camp, captain Henrik Zetterberg, goalie Robin Lehner, defenseman Niklas Kronwall and forward Alexander Steen all bowed out of the World Cup. Forward Rickard Rakell was recently scratched from the roster because of an unspecified illness. Despite all that, Sweden begins the tournament in good shape.
What to watch for: To win big, Swedes must think small
Since this best-on-best tournament is being played on the smaller North American ice surface, goals will be at a premium. Most goals should come from the dirty areas in front of the net, so Sweden spent a lot of time during camp working on small-area games. That forces quick decisions with the puck and the Swedes want that to become second nature, because teams will attempt to push them around in those areas. Keep an eye on young forwards Forsberg and Jakob Silfverberg. Both are coming into their own for the national team, and this could be the perfect stage for their continued development.