As a majority of the Devils’ roster gets a three week break from NHL action, four players are representing their countries over in Sochi at the 2014 Olympic Winter games. Of the Devils’ four Olympic selections, Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, and Marek Zidlicky are members of the Czech Republic team, and Damien Brunner is representing Switzerland for the second straight Olympics.
After two games each in the three game group play part of the tournament, both teams have records of 1-1. The Czechs lost their opening game to Sweden 4-2 after being badly outplayed for the first half of the game. They fell behind 4-0, before playing a much more complete game the rest of the way. The chemistry between the Devils’ teammates was apparent on the Czech’s first goal of the tournament. Elias executed a beautiful drop pass at the top of the right circle that Zidlicky was able to fire home top shelf past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Jaromir Jagr scored on a nifty one handed goal late in the third, but the rally fell just short. They managed to bounce back and get a 4-2 victory against Latvia yesterday afternoon. Jagr and Zidlicky each recorded their second goals of the Olympic, and it was Jagr’s second goal on the power play.
Damien Brunner is certainly feeling at home on his Switzerland squad. Much like the Devils, his Olympic team is very defensive oriented and do not score many goals. This is evidenced by their 1-0 win against Latvia, a game in which Switzerland needed to score with 7 seconds left to get the victory, and then getting shutout 1-0 by Sweden. Brunner did not factor into the scoring on Switzerland’s lone goal of the tournament, but he has had a number of high quality scoring chances.
Both the Czech Republic and Switzerland have one game remaining in the preliminary round and it is against each other. The game will be crucial because the winner will remain in the hunt for final bye spot into the quarterfinals (barring Sweden being upset by Latvia), although the winner will likely need a lot of things to break their way in order to win that spot. Goal differential is a tie breaker in the Olympics, and both teams’ sits at even. It would be hard to beat out a team like Canada or Finland who has put up at least a +8 goal differential.
Devils fans have to be feeling pretty good about what they’ve seen from their team’s players in the Olympics. Marek Zidlicky especially has continued to play at an extremely high level for the last month, and both Jagr and Elias have been rock solid all season long. The Olympics have continued the theme that that the Devils have had all season long; extremely productive play from their veteran players. The only thing to be worried about is that all three of those players are at least 37 years of age, and that the extra playing time may take its toll down the stretch run of the season.
The final preliminary game between the Czech Republic and Switzerland will be played tomorrow at noon on the NBC Sports Network.