Czech Republic-Latvia Preview
The Czech Republic made a surprising move by scratching its lone NHL goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, before its first game of the Olympics. His absence was noticeable during his team's slow start in a loss to Sweden.
With Pavelec potentially starting, the Czechs will try to rebound with their first win in Sochi on Friday against Latvia.
Pavelec was expected to be the mainstay in net for the Czech Republic but was held out Wednesday, reportedly because coach Alois Hadamczik wanted him to continue adjusting to the different time zone. Hadamczik instead went with Jakub Kovar of the Kontinental Hockey League against a formidable Swedish squad in the Group C opener.
Kovar was pulled early in the second period after giving up three goals on 10 shots. His replacement, Alexander Salak - also a KHL goalie - allowed Sweden to jump to a 4-0 lead on the first shot he faced before settling down in a 4-2 defeat.
"We were just sitting back too much," forward Patrik Elias told the NHL's official website. "We were passive. We didn't go. We backed off. We talked about being patient without the puck, but that's what we did for the whole (first) period. We got in trouble with the penalties, they scored on it. That's simplified but that was the reason."
Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky scored to make the final score a little more respectable. They'll next try to help the Czech Republic bounce back against Latvia, which was a pesky opponent in the second of two matchups in Vancouver in 2010.
Latvia showed it might be ready to cause some more difficulties after just missing an opportunity for its second-ever Olympic victory Wednesday.
The Latvians gave up a goal with 7.9 seconds left in a 1-0 loss to Switzerland. Edgars Masalskis made 38 saves but couldn't stop a shot that bounced off teammate Georgijs Pujacs.
"I thought as the game went, we got better and better and we felt that we can really compete," coach Ted Nolan said. "I was really proud of the way our guys battled. Unfortunately, this game is a game of mistakes and we made a couple of mistakes in the last minute of the game that cost us."
Latvia suffered a 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic in their first meeting of the last Winter Games, but the Czechs were taken to overtime by the Latvians in the playoff round.
The Czech Republic scored two goals in the first 11:06 in that matchup but gave up two in the final eight minutes of regulation before David Krejci scored in the extra period for a 3-2 win.
Masalskis, who started both matchups with the Czechs in Vancouver, stopped 47 shots in the playoff-round defeat.
The status of Czech defenseman Radko Gudas of the Tampa Bay Lightning is uncertain. He was scratched from the opener reportedly because of an illness.