Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson lead Sweden past Czech Republic

Sweden's Erik Karlsson (left) celebrates his goal with teammate Oliver Erkman-Larsson during their...

Sweden's Erik Karlsson (left) celebrates his goal with teammate Oliver Erkman-Larsson during their men's preliminary round hockey game against the Czech Republic at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Feb. 12, 2014. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:21 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - Sweden is off to a fast start at the Olympics thanks to an opening win over the Czech Republic Wednesday.

Young defencemen Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson also took the lead in the little-known “best forechecking defencemen” category.

The pair were worth the price of admission — in rubles, or whatever — with Karlsson scoring two goals and Ekman-Larsson having a couple of assists as Sweden roared out to a 4-0 lead, scoring three goals on goaltender Jakub Kovar before he got the hook less than a minute into the second period of what ended as a 4-2 Swedish victory.

Why Czech coach Alois Hadamczik chose not even to dress Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets — the company line was he could get more rest and the games don’t really count for much at this point — is anybody’s guess, but you can never go wrong looking at a player’s world championship participation.

Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson were in attack mode and that can make things interesting. At one point in the third period, Ekman-Larsson took off into the Czech zone, the puck was turned over and the Swedish forwards on the ice beat both Ekman-Larsson and Eriksson back to their zone.

“A couple of times Erik and I were the first guys up,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It’s going to get better every game and practice. We haven’t played together before. It’s going to get better.”

The pair might be the most offensively gifted duo in the tournament. They are going to make their share of mistakes, but they also have the ability to do what they did to the Czechs.

Sweden’s Daniel Alfredsson was jokingly asked who plays defence when the pair on the ice. You?

“At times,” said Alfredsson. “They have the ability to be as dynamic as they were today. Both are so agile, move the puck, pass the puck really well and skate really well, so they can recover a lot of times themselves. I think that’s what makes Erik so good. He gambles at times, but the way he selects to go or not go is great. We need him to do that and he can make mistakes. It puts the other team on their heels defensively.”

Alfredsson is enjoying being around Karlsson, who boarded with him in Ottawa before Alfredsson left the Senators to sign with the Detroit Red Wings.

“It’s a lot of fun for me, not being in Ottawa this year, to be around him here, off the ice, as well. We’ve had a lot of fun together,” said Alfredsson.

Karlsson opened the scoring 10 minutes into the game when he blew one by Kovar with Alfredsson setting a screen in front. His second made it 4-0 on a slapper from the top of the slot.

The Czechs made a game of it with Alexander Salak relieving Kovar in goal, but the Swedes prevailed.

“It feels great obviously. I think we came out strong in the first and controlled the pace and played really well in the offensive zone and didn’t really give them much,” Karlsson said. “We got an early 2-0 lead and in the second we might have had a little bit of a down period but that’s normal. (Goalie Henrik Lundqvist) made the saves when we needed him to. In the third, we just came out and played 50-50 to win the game.”

Can Sweden be beat?

“I mean anything’s possible obviously, but I don’t like to think that way. You can’t look too far ahead and tomorrow’s a new day and that’s what we’ve got to focus on right now,” said Karlsson. ”Anything can happen.”

Yes it can, especially when Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson are on the ice.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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