The Elitserien entered the final week of its regular season Feb. 21, and all but the final two playoff spots are set for the second season.
As of Feb. 19, Skellefteå HC, with its two high-scoring lines, held down the No. 1 seed with 85 points from 48 games. Defending league champions HV 71 were the No. 2 seed with 83 points from 48 games.
Färjestad held the No. 3 seed with 82 points while Linköping came in at No. 4 with 80 points.
The first round of the playoffs is something of a reward for the three teams that finish with the most points in the regular season. The top three teams get to select their opponents in the first round, so if the No. 1 seed has had a strong season against the No. 4 team, those two would meet in a series, with the next two teams also selecting their opponents.
The semifinals are more straightforward, with the top remaining seed taking on the lowest remaining seed.
With just six points separating first from third, the top seed remains in play in the final week of the regular season, Färjestad probably has the best chance of snatching away the top seed. The Wolfpack play HV 71 Feb. 26 then play Skellefteå March 1. Defending champion HV 71 has the toughest final schedule, with games against playoff-bound teams in five of their final six matches.
The margin between fourth and seventh is even tighter as just five points separate fourth-place Linköping from fifth-place Luleå, six-place Brynäs, and seventh-place Djurgården, all of which have 75 points. Each of the four teams has six games remaining with 12 valuable points available, and the small difference between the teams means any one of them could slide up several seeds with just a couple victories.
Although seven teams remain locked in a battle for playoff position, those teams at least know they are in the playoffs. It’s much different for the eighth and final spot, which remains just about anyone’s guess.
Timrå, with 68 points, currently holds the eighth seed. Frölunda sits four points back in ninth place while AIK is five points behind in 10th place. Södertälje, with 62 points, is eleventh, while Modo, with 61 points, is last. Going into February, Modo seemed to have the No. 8 spot all sewn up, but a six-game losing streak sent the Örnsköldsvik team tumbling to the basement.
The Indians and Gnaget have the best shot at wresting the No. 8 spot away from the Red Eagles, but with 12 points up for grabs over the final week of the regular season, even Modo could climb back into the hunt for the playoffs.
Whichever teams fall short have either a long vacation or a worrying tournament to which to look forward. The ninth- and tenth-places go home while 11 and 12 play the top four Allsvenskan teams for the right to remain in the top flight of Swedish hockey.
Here’s a look at how the current top seven seeds stack up going into the final week of the season.
OFFENSE: The northern Swedish team, along with HV 71, has been the most consistent team in the Elitserien this year, thanks to having a line that is the envy of Swedish hockey. Joakim Lindström (25 goals, 28 assists, 53 points), Mikko Lehtonen (27 goals, 25 assists, 52 points) and defenseman David Rundblad (10 goals, 31 assists, 41 points) anchor a first unit that averages nearly three points a game. Eric Forsell (11 goals 11 assists, 22 goals) and Jimmie Ericsson (10 goals, 17 assists) make up the core of the team’s second line. SAIK’s biggest problem this season is finding a third player for each line. So far, head coach Anders Forsberg has rotated 11 players on the left of each line, and has yet to find any decent results other than Fredrik Warg who has played on both lines, racking up 11 goals and 17 assists. The team’s offense could be even more of a motivator come the playoffs as Lindström, Lehtonen and Rundblad have all received interest from the NHL and the Russian KHL. This could be a one-and-done season for Skellefteå, and Forsberg knows it and will look to make to the most of his high-flying trio.
DEFENSE: Skellefteå has allowed 122 goals in 48 games, almost 2.6 per game. Only two defensemen—Fredrik Lindgren and Adam Larsson—have a plus-minus rating better than 10, although Lindgren’s +18 is a league best. Andreas Hadelöv is the No. 1 goalie, and his 2.30 goals against average and 91.75 save percentage are sixth best in the league. Teams usually ride a hot goalie into the playoffs and, in his last five games, Hadelöv has only been lukewarm, giving up 14 goals.
2. HV 71
OFFENSE: The defending Elitserien champions still have most of the tools that led them to the title last year, including center Johan Davidsson, who has 35 points this season (9 goals, 26 assists). Davidsson centers the Blue Bulls first line, but his goal production is down by one-third from last season when he racked up 58 points in the regular season. Davidsson was also a force in the playoffs, picking up 16 points on four goals and 12 assists. Martin Thörnberg leads the team in scoring this season with 40 points (23 goals, 17 assists). Teemu Lainne rounds out the first line with 19 goals and seven assists from the left wing. Czech center Kamil Piros has been a revelation in his second season in Jönköping, grabbing 35 points on 10 goals and 25 assists as he leads the second line. The champions believe in spreading the scoring joy as 12 players have 8 goals or more this season.
DEFENSE: Daniel Larsson is the No. 1 between the pipes, although his 2.43 goals against average is more indicative of problems on the back line than in goal. Larsson has a 92.75 save percentage, the fourth best in the league. The champions have allowed 126 goals in 48 games, fourth among the top eight teams. Head coach Jan Karlsson will likely ride Larsson in the playoffs, which could be a risk. Although he has played in five full Elitserien seasons, Larsson has no playoff experience.
No. 3 Färjestad
OFFENSE: The Wolfpack continue to recover from losing the core of the team that won the 2008-09 title. Farjestad failed to reach the semifinals last year, the first time in 10 years the Wolfpack didn’t make the final four. Pelle Prestberg, who seems ageless, continues to rack up points, managing a team-leading 29 points on nine goals and 20 assists so far this season. Mikael Johansson also has 29 points from 10 goals and 19 assists. The Wolfpack’s biggest strength, however, is how well head coach Tommy Samuelsson has managed to spread the offensive duties. Fourteen different players have 15 points or more, making it difficult for opponents to single out any one sniper. The drawback, however, is when Färjestad needs a goal, only one player—Christian Berglund—has 15 goals or more.
DEFENSE: If goalies win titles, Färjestad could well have its championship key in net minder Alexander Salek. The Czech goalie, in his first season in Sweden, has set the league on fire, allowing just 61 goals for a 2.04 goals against average. Färjestad has also allowed the fewest shots on goal—809 in 48 games. Salek is also tied with Fredrik Norrena of Linköping for most shutouts this season with six.
No. 4 Linköping
OFFENSE: After getting off to a round start, Linköping rebounded when it reassembled its Czech line of Jan Hlavac and Jaroslav Hlinka. The two Czechs, in 37 games, combined for 63 points. Magnus Johansson leads the team in points with 36 on nine goals and 27 assists. Patrik Zackrisson is the team’s leading goal scorer with 15, an impressive total for a squad that has just 123 goals in 48 games. The Linköping offense works in spurts and relies mostly on a swarming defense to create its chances, fact that Johansson brings home. He’s a right defenseman.
DEFENSE: Fredrik Norrena is the No. 1 goalie in the Elitserien, and right now the Finn is on fire. He as allowed just five goals in his last six games—including a pair of shutouts—and his 1.97 goals against average is nearly superhuman. As a team, Linköping has surrendered the fewest goals in the league—97—while Norrena has put together a 92.26 save percentage, giving up just 85 goals on 1098 shots.
No. 5 Luleå
OFFENSE: After running wild early in the season, Luleå landed with a thump when injuries to Canadian twins Cam and Chris Abbott shattered the first line. Luleå never really recovered as the hard-hitting and high-scoring brothers were the core of the team first-year head coach Jonas Rönnqvist tried to build in the northernmost city in the Elitserien. Pär Arlbrandt leads the team in scoring with 33 points on 16 goals and 17 assists while Chris Abbott has 32 points. Brother Cam, in just 26 games, picked up 17 points. Arlbrandt’s 16 goals leads the team, while Christ Abbott has 14. As a team, Luleå has scored 113 goals in 48 games, the lowest among the top eight teams.
DEFENSE: Luleå plays team defense, allowing just 107 goals, the second fewest among the playoff-bound clubs. Rönnqvist uses a goaltending tandem of Anders Nilsson and David Rautio. The two have seen almost equal time in goal, with Nilsson facing 598 shots and Rautio 518. Rautio has the better goals against average—1.95—but his lack of time leaves him short of being the league leader.
No. 6 Brynäs
OFFENSE: Good at scoring, not so good at keeping the goals out. The Tigers are one of three playoff teams with an overall minus in goals allowed, goals scored. They are also the last of the teams with a winning record heading toward the Elitserien second season. Andreas Dackell is the top point scorer for a team that lacks one true sniper. Dackell has 10 goals and 24 points while linemate Eero Somervuori is the top goal scorer with 16. Jakob Silverberg has 15 goals.
DEFENSE: Swiss goalie Thomas Greiss was the No. 1 until a groin injury opened the door to Niklas Svedberg who has a 2.33 goals against average in 23 games. The Tigers as a team have allowed 134 goals in 48 games, two more than they have scored. The blue line is only so-so with just nine players with a plus rating. How far the Tigers go in the playoffs will depend on just how quickly head coach Niklas Czarnecki can patch up a defense that has allowed 18 goals in its last four games.
No. 7 Djurgården
OFFENSE: After reaching the finals last year Djurgården has had some problems, especially in finding the big goal. Matthias Tjärnqvist leads the team in goals with just 14 and he has just 20 points overall. Andreas Holmqvist, with 12 goals and Daniel Widing with 10 are the only other players with double-digit goals. As a team DIF has 123 goals in 48 games and 24 players have at least one goal, but that statistic isn’t likely to strike fear in the heart of any playoff opponent.
DEFENSE: Last year, Stefan Riderwall carried Djurgården almost to the Elitserien title, but this season the play of Mark Owuya knocked Ridderwall out of the No. 1 job. Owuya is tied for first in save percentage at 92.46, allowing 59 goals on 783 shots while compiling a 2.28 goals against average. The jury is still out, however, on whether the rookie is the goalie DIF can ride through the playoffs this year.
by Chipp Reid
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