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Modo off to a terrible start in Swedish League

by Bill Meltzer
There is often a narrow gap in Elitserien between contending for one of the eight playoff slots and fighting to stay out of the relegation/promotion tournament that awaits the bottom two clubs in the Elite League and the top clubs in minor-league Allsvenskan.

If the season ended today, perennial playoff team Modo Hockey would be forced to play in the tournament known as Kvalserien (the qualification series). The team sits in last place in the 12-team league, seven points behind eighth-place Frolunda HC Gothenburg and five behind Rogle BK Angelholm, which sits in 10th place. 

Fortunately for the team from Ornskoldsvik, there is still plenty of time to get back to its accustomed place in the standings. Modo recently ended a streak of five-straight losses with an overtime victory against another struggling team, Timra IK.

The game saw Modo trailing in the final seconds of regulation when Andreas Molinder scored to tie the game at 2. Less than a minute earlier, Timra's Sebastian Erixon scored to give his team the lead, forcing Modo to pull goaltender Michaj Zajkowski for an extra attacker. In the extra frame, veteran defenseman Mattias Timander beat goaltender Magnus Akerlund on a power play to complete the comeback victory. 

"We can exhale a little now," said Molinder, who scored his second goal of the season at the best possible time. "It's not very often that I score goals; but on this occasion, I was in the right place at the right time." 

Goal scoring has been a major problem for Modo all season. The club has scored a mere 27 goals in 13 games, while allowing 40. Mats Zuccarello-Aasen has held up his end of the bargain offensively, tallying 5 goals and 13 points, but the rest of the support hasn't been there. The Modo goaltenders and defense rarely have any margin for error. Zajkowski has performed well in his two starts in goal, but the projected tandem of Czech import Roman Malek and Niklas Svedberg have had issues, especially Malek.

A big part of Modo's offensive woes stems from injuries to key players. The seemingly endless comeback saga of Peter Forsberg saw the legendary center return once again to the team of his youth, only to suffer a stress fracture in his foot. In three games, he tallied three goals and an assist. Meanwhile, Niklas Sundstrom recently went under the knife and will miss at least a month. He has been limited to two games so far this season.

To complete Modo's woes, the team's most-tenured player, Andreas Salomonsson, has only been able to suit up for eight games due to a groin injury. There is no timetable for his return. Salomonsson produced just three assists in eight games before leaving the lineup. 

Finding supplementary offense in the absence of so many crucial players has proven almost impossible. Two of Modo's most bankable performers, Per-Age Skroder and Per Svartvadet, are off to poor offensive starts in light of their heightened responsibilities. Svartvadet has played well in his own zone, but his 2 goals and 8 points haven't been enough to help overcome all the injuries on the top lines. Skroder, a Norwegian power forward who has been a key power-play scorer in recent years, has produced just 2 goals (both on the man advantage) and 7 points. Josh Green has also been a disappointment, tallying just 2 goals and 6 points. 

Even with the loss of Victor Hedman to the NHL, the Modo blue-line play has generally been adequate in its own end this season. But it's been of precious little help in chipping in desperately needed offense.  While defensive leader Timander has an ugly minus-6 rating, he and Daniel Sondell have combined to contribute 4 goals and 10 points to the club. The rest of the blueline has scored 2 goals and 4 assists. 

Modo will be back in action on Saturday, taking on Sodertalje SK. So far, SSK sits in ninth place, six points ahead of Modo.

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