A Game to Set the Tone

VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Somewhat of a deja vu from this time last year, Vienna were on top of the league after the (for the lack of a better name, really) pick round, with a wide open selection of their first round playoff opponent. Yet again, they chose Innsbruck, with players from the Sharks watching themselves being selected on the jumbotron in Vienna, after dropping the regular season finale to the Capitals.

The boys in yellow waltzed into the game, had a plethora of man advantages early on, and executed accordingly. Three of Vienna’s four goals in Friday night’s 4:1 win came on the powerplay.

Innsbruck, remarkably, took six penalties in the first period alone, essentially giving Vienna a golden ticket to establish an early lead. Which they, sort of, did. Rene Swette had to take the puck out of his net twice, but the rest of the time it seemed as if Vienna’s passing efficiency wasn’t where it needed to be. Not that there is something major to be complained about, though.

To further address the rather large amount of penalties taken, given that we are in the playoffs, perhaps the officials should have let some be, as is, so to say, protocol during postseason games, but once it was clear that the officials were showing no mercy and tolerance (though there were some softish calls throughout the game), it should have been up to the visiting team to clean up their play a bit. After all, Vienna are an offensive powerhouse and once given the opportunity, they will give you hell.

As if the penalty horse hasn’t been beaten to death yet, Vienna were taking the majority of penalties in the second frame of the game. Innsbruck, lacking luck, shot either wide of the net, or directly into JP Lamoreux. The woes of misfortune continued, with two shots within a minute bouncing off the crossbar. The Tyrolean squad had a steep hill to climb.

Was this an all together nice hockey game? Not quite. Lacking offensive creativity, shots and space. However it was a thoroughly enjoyable preview of what is to come in the series. A true, chippy and gritty playoff matchup between two good teams. It was rough and rowdy on the ice Friday night, lots of penalties, strong hits, scrums and two fights which weren’t really fights, but they were amusing to watch.

There also was the occasional pleasant move, most notably Taylor Vause’s setup for Vienna’s fourth goal of the night. A speedy offensive zone carry entry and a somewhat spinorama pass into the slot right on captain Andreas Nödl’s tape for his second tally of the game. Despite conceding four goals, Rene Swette stood tall for some flashy saves as well.

As one team executive told me, “It’s going to be a tough series.”

I couldn’t agree more.