Don’t let their records from the group stage fool you, Team Switzerland and Team Russia are more than capable of playing better hockey than what we have seen thus far in Calgary. Both teams are missing elite forwards due to injury and both have something to prove after being dominated by Canada, Finland, and the U.S. in the group stage.
Looking at the big picture, Russia’s goaltending hasn’t failed them — even though they’ve swapped goaltenders in multiple games. Their real problem has been losing the puck possession battle against elite teams. Fortunately for Russia, Switzerland does not fall into that category, which means the Russians — or the Russian Olympic Committee, sorry — shouldn’t have to rely on its power play to get into the next round.
It’s been a long four games for Switzerland. After the group stage, they are 0-4-0 and have a -111 shot differential. Their only goal? Scored against Russia — by Alina Müller, who is out for the tournament with an injury she sustained against the Russians. As I said, it’s been a long four games.
Key Story: The Rematch
Russia knows they can beat Switzerland because they’ve already done it. In fact, they are the only team the Russians have defeated thus far at the 2021 World Championship.
With this crucial win against Switzerland, the ROC took an important step towards securing 4th place in Group A. pic.twitter.com/GhrL6BAoVO— Mikael Nahabedian (@hunterofstats) August 22, 2021
Per Mikael Nahabedian’s tracking, Russia enjoyed the majority of the shot share (64 CF%) and had a clear edge in xG DIFF (expected goal differential) when they played Switzerland. They out-shot the Swiss 34-20 and scored twice at even strength and on one of their seven power plays. It’s rare that the Russians end up in the green in penalty differential but, clearly, their style of play and sustained pressure at evens got the better of a Swiss team that appeared to lose a gear after Alina Müller left the game with a lower-body injury.
Today’s game could really boil down to how Russia’s top defenders — Anna Shibanova (20:52 TOI/GP) and Nina Pirogova (21:22 TOI/GP) handle a Swiss attack led by Lara Stalder. Since Müller’s injury, it has been all eyes on Stalder and Phoebe Stänz. The pressure is on that pair of veterans to generate chances and to find a way to light the lamp.
Switzerland isn’t advancing to anywhere unless they can score.
Russia’s Key Player: Olga Sosina
One way or another, Russia’s captain will be a factor today. There’s no denying Sosina’s talent — just take a look at the numbers she’s put up in the ZhHL — but there is also no denying that there is a lot of weight on her shoulders with Anna Shokhina out of the tournament and the knockout stage with an injury.
I have said it many times that Olga Sosina is one of the best players in the world. Her shot is ridiculous. https://t.co/ofsmDU0fVO— Venla Hovi (@VenlaHovi) August 23, 2021
Both of Sosina’s points at the 2021 Worlds have come on the power play, but she is dangerous in any situation where she can unleash that shot of hers. With that said, she handles the puck a lot on Russia’s power play, which is why it tends to sink or swim with her on any given night. The Swiss need to play her aggressively if and when Russia goes on the advantage. They also need to be mindful of Valeria Pavlova’s big shot. Together, they represent Russia’s two biggest threats.
Watch for Sosina to lead by example by playing physical and doing everything she can to make life miserable for the Swiss defense.
Switzerland’s Key Player: Lara Stalder
It’s officially win-or-go-home time for the Swiss and there are few players who show up in big games the way that Lara Stalder does. She is, flat out, one of the best players on the planet. And the Swiss are going to need her to play like one.
Lara Stalder misses the net on a breakaway. I made a GIF because this does not happen often. Russia gets a huge break here. pic.twitter.com/EneBnmNyKE— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) August 21, 2021
Through four games, Stalder has a primary assist on her team’s lone goal but has been unable to find the back of the net on a team-leading 10 shots on goal. Actually, Stalder is responsible for just under 1/5th of all Swiss shots on goal, which should give you some idea of just how much the fate of her team rests in her hands.
It’s important to remember that Stalder brings a lot more to the table than her ability to finish. She is a great puck-carrier and an underrated player away from the puck. Everyone knows her team will be looking to her to have a monster game. Stalder just has to find a way to go out there and make things happen — particularly in the offensive zone — and not let all of Russia’s trademark clutching and grabbing get the best of her.
Oh, and some great goaltending wouldn’t hurt Switzerland’s cause either. They have a .912 team save percentage entering the day after playing USA, Canada, Finland, and Russia in the group stage. This Swiss roster also has tons of potential on the blue line and quite a few skilled forwards who are still healthy in the lineup. Stalder doesn’t have to do this alone. She just has to take charge.
How to Watch
TSN (Canada), ESPN+ ($) at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
Data courtesy of IIHF.com.