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World Cup

Henrik Lundqvist, defense keys for Team Sweden

World Cup chances contingent on 34-year-old goalie, D-men being at their best

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

Statistically, Team Sweden is a well-balanced team with a strong defense and no obvious flaws. The only possible concern at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17-Oct. 1, would be if something happens to No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers).

Long live the King

In general, a team's most important player tends to be its goaltender. That is especially true when it's King Henrik.

Lundqvist's NHL career save percentage at even strength is .929, which ranks third among active goalies who've played at least 50 NHL games behind Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins) at .932 and Roberto Luongo (Florida Panthers) at .929.

Given that backups Jhonas Enroth (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks) rank 32nd and 59th, respectively, among the 61 goalies on that leaderboard, it's that much more important that Lundqvist is healthy and at his best.

The only cause for concern is that Lundqvist is 34 and has been trending down. His .920 save percentage last season was his lowest since 2008-09, and 2015-16 was the first season he didn't finish in the top six in voting for the Vezina Trophy.

Balanced usage

With two notable exceptions, Team Sweden is comprised of versatile players who are accustomed to being deployed in offensive and defensive situations.

Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators) lined up for 495 even-strength faceoffs in the offensive zone and 149 in the defensive zone last season, a zone start percentage of 76.9 percent that ranked third among NHL forwards behind linemates Mike Ribeiro (84.9 percent) and Craig Smith (77.5 percent).

At the other end of the spectrum, Marcus Kruger (Chicago Blackhawks) had a zone start percentage of 18.8 percent, fourth-lowest ahead of Nashville's checking line of Paul Gaustad, Eric Nystrom and Austin Watson.

Silver lining

Team Sweden's most underrated player could be forward Jakob Silfverberg (Anaheim Ducks), who plays a vital shutdown role.

Using the information contained in NHL game files, it is possible to identify players who are tasked with shutting down top opposing scorers. After measuring the amount of time each player has spent facing every other player, the average performance level of a player's opponents can be calculated. When this calculation is derived from shot-based metrics, Silfverberg leads the League in the average quality of his competition, according to

Silfverberg also should be invaluable in the shootout; he has scored 18 goals in 30 attempts during his NHL career. His 60 percent success rate is the highest on Team Sweden among players who've had 30 or more attempts; Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals) is next at 35.7 percent.

Video: ANA@COL: Silfverberg rifles it home for second goal

On point

Given the strength of Team Sweden's defense, coach Rikard Gronborg likely will develop a game plan that's built around it. If so, Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) could finish among the tournament's scoring leaders.

To put Karlsson's scoring totals of the past five seasons into context, compare them to his closest rival, Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), who will play for Team Canada:

- Karlsson's 314 points lead NHL defensemen. Burns is second with 240.

- Karlsson leads the League with an average of 0.91 points per game, Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins) is second with 0.85, and Burns is third with 0.70.

- Karlsson's average of 27:09 of ice time per game is second to Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter's 28:15. Burns averages 21:58.

- Ottawa has had 1,000 more shot attempts that its opponents with Karlsson on the ice. San Jose has out-attempted opponents by 946 with Burns. They rank fifth and sixth among NHL defensemen.

- In relative terms, Karlsson has boosted Ottawa's share of shot attempts by 5.0 percent, from 48.7 to 53.7, which is first among NHL defensemen who have played at least 100 games. Burns has boosted San Jose's share by 3.1 percent.

Video: PIT@OTT: Karlsson nets unconventional milestone goal

Dynamic duo

One of the strongest defense pairs in the NHL is Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning have done very well since they signed Stralman as a free agent on July 1, 2014, and put him on their top pair with Hedman. In the past two seasons, Stralman ranks third among NHL defensemen at plus-38; Hedman is eighth at plus-33.

In terms of shot-based metrics, the Lightning have had 480 more shot attempts with Stralman on the ice (sixth in NHL) and 467 more with Hedman (seventh). Calculated as a percentage, Tampa Bay has taken 55.6 percent of shot attempts with either defenseman on the ice, tied for eighth in the League. In relative terms, Stralman has boosted Tampa Bay's shot attempts percentage by 4.6 percent and Hedman by 4.4 percent, which ranks ninth and 14th, respectively, among NHL defensemen to play at least 30 games over the past two seasons.

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