Slovenia v Austria (Bolshoy Ice Dome)
Time:12:00 AM Pacific
You would have been hard pressed to find anyone who thought Slovenia would finish the round-robin version higher than last place in their group. In fact, the popular opinion was that Slovenia would probably finish at the bottom of the entire standings. Placed in the assumed toughest group in the tournament, Slovenia instead won a game against Slovakia, held their own against Russia in Russia, and took the number 8 seed. So it's been a moderate success already.
However, now that Slovenia has a winnable game ahead of them, they have a chance to do something no one thought would even be a possibility: make the quarterfinals.
Anze Kopitar, thankfully, is feeling better after sickness kept him out of the third period against the United States. It goes without saying that Slovenia probably needs Kopitar to win this game, especially given how crucial he was in the Slovakia contest. The rest of the team has performed reasonably well, and even in the lopsided loss to the USA, they had spells of pressure and responded to the early 2-0 deficit by playing the Americans fairly even until goals 3 and 4 in the second. The big challenge will be to keep Austria off the board early, as that was the biggest hurdle against both Russia and the United States.
Anaheim Calling previewed Austria before the Olympics started. They, like Slovenia, have three points, with a comfortable win against their group's cellar dweller and big losses to the top two teams in the group. The obvious threats are Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek. Grabner is the current goals leader with 5, placing him one ahead of Phil Kessel and (yep!) Drew Doughty. Meanwhile, Vanek has had a quiet Olympics so far, registering one assist and no goals thus far. Michael Raffl (a rookie for the Flyers) has been solid, but aside from those three, the offensive talent for Austria is rather thin.
The defense has been shaky for Austria aside from their win against Norway, and if Slovenia is to win, they'll need to win that particular battle. It's unclear whether starter Bernhard Starkbaum (who was thrown to the wolves of Finland and Canada) will remain in net, or Mathias Lange (with a .980 save percentage in one start and one relief appearance) will get the call. Robert Kristan, carrying a .906 save percentage, should be back in goal for Slovenia.
The winner of this game faces #1 overall seed Sweden in the quarterfinals. Come back in three hours and talk about the game with us here!