SOCHI – With three days of practice before his first game, Finland coach Erkka Westerlund has some time to iron out his lineup minus his top two centers: Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Koivu and Filppula had to pull out of the Olympics with separate ankle injuries, leaving the Finns depleted down the middle and likely having to use the Wild's Mikael Granlund and the Winnipeg Jets' Olli Jokinen as their top centers.
Finland assistant coach Lauri Marjamaki said following practice Monday that he will have Granlund centering the top line with Florida Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov on his left wing and Anaheim Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne on his right wing. Selanne is entering his sixth Olympics.
"Obviously they're two of their top players, they were tough losses for us the last couple of days, but it's nothing we should concentrate on anymore," Jussi Jokinen said. "We have good players here. We have to find a way to be a tough team to play against, rely on our goaltending and team defense and be good on special teams. That will lead to success here."
Finland's goaltending is good enough to carry it deep into the tournament. Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is the likely starter for the Finns' opener Thursday against Austria, but San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi and his roommate in Sochi, Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars, are obviously capable.
"They are tough losses for our team, top players in the world," Niemi said of Koivu and Filppula. "But I think we've got some good skill to replace them. And it's a tournament so I think we've got a pretty good chance."