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Finland hockey Liiga comes back from an international break now and the season is reaching the final decisive stage. Teams have played 45-47 matches and there is only about a month to go before the playoffs begin. Here is our current team ranking and we list all the key points of each team you should look for.
Kärpät is simply the number one favorite for the Liiga title even if there is still a lot of room for improvement. Their defense hasn’t been on the same level it was earlier this season but attacking has improved a lot lately. Especially forward Joonas Donskoi has started to reach the high expectations. Kärpät have set the roles very well for each attacking line and the team is a good mix of experience and young players moving forward in their career.
Strengths: Player material is the most balanced one in the league and the leading players have simply the experience of winning needed. Top-class coaching of course and they have found the perfect attacking lines right now.
Weaknesses: Small suspicion if the goalkeeping is good enough. Is Karhunen able to repeat “the miracle” of the previous season when he could surprise everyone. Is Tarkki really a goalie for a title-winning team? There are many really good goalies in Liiga this season and this area is one clear threat for their title ambitions.
The Surprise: Saku Mäenalanen. the former U20 World Champion has been searching his place in both Hokki and Pelicans this season. Now he’s returned to Oulu and been really good in 2nd line. Confidence is raising and he’ll get plenty of minutes on ice in the future.
The Performer: Joonas Donskoi. He’s pushing to make it to World Championship team as well. A very good overall player, +- stats +18 is an excellent number and reflects his working morale.
The Disappointment: Dan Spang. He was excellent in playoffs in SaiPa last season but so far a totally different man in Kärpät. Lots of mistakes and he hasn’t done much in attack either, which was expected to be his strength.
Tappara is currently the number one challenger for Kärpät. Their form curve is pointing to the right direction right now and they have come out of a serious crisis, which certainly brought the team together.
Strengths: the key players are really good quality. Olli Palola, Teemu Aalto and Metsola are undisputed top class players in Liiga this season. They have also a lot of hunger from last season and a good chance to actually win the title.
Weaknesses: the depth of the squad – it feels like they might not have enough players capable to score decisive goals when games get tougher. The winning culture / mentality: there is a big difference to Kärpät in this department when you look at the achievements and experience of the leading players. Coaches are also not the most experienced ones.
The Surprise: attacker Jarkko Malinen. He’s been the most balanced centre-forward of Tappara, excellent defensive work-rate as well. He fits perfectly in the middle of very attacking-minded duo Palola/Kuusela.
The Performer: Olli Palola has found a great form lately after a disappointing early season.
The Disappointment: Defender David Kolomatis has so far failed to fill his role
HIFK have suffered badly from some key player injuries this season (Söderholm, Ikonen etc). They have recently looked very tired as well. HIFK was a very disciplined team earlier this season but they’ve made a lot of mistakes in January matches.
Strengths: HIFK have tons of firepower and capacity to score goals, but they need to find the permanent to lines and also get injured players back in full fitness.
Weaknesses: currently HIFK haven’t been able to find permanent lines but the players are being switched all the time, partly due to injuries as well and partly because they haven’t found player-combinations that work. The biggest question mark is goaltending: Husso is not currently on a level he should be and Lankinen is not good enough either. This duo is way too inexperienced if HIFK will have to go with them to the playoffs matches.
The Surprise: defender Lauri Taipalus was simply excellent earlier this season
The Performer: defender Toni Söderholm has suffered from injuries but when he has been fit, he has been convincing.
The Disappointment: Goalies after X-Mas, especially Husso
The big question mark with is this: how is the Perhonen / Chiodo duo able to cover for injured goalkeeper Kilpeläinen. The year 2015 has been so far pretty solid for this team.
Strengths: The famous “puck-control hockey” has always been the strength for this team and that’s how they have built the roster and they got right type of players to perform it.
Weaknesses: The playing style like this can be also at the same time a big liability, because it hasn’t simply worked in playoffs in recent years. How is the goalkeeper situation going to be? Currently KalPa is also rotating their lines and seeking for the optimal player-combinations. Are they going to find them in time? At the moment power-play and a general inefficiency is a weakness for this team as well.
The Surprise: attacker Mikael Ruohomaa. He was found from 1st division (Mestis) and few years ago Ruohomaa was playing even in lower divisions. He’s a talent who has been able to develop his physics to a high enough level.
The Performer: experienced attacker Jukka Voutilainen has scored 15 times already
The Disappointment: Power-Play, especially in their travels
JYP is a very tricky team in betting since the difference between good day and a bad day can be massive. They had a lot of points earlier this season due to excellent goaltending and back then in-form Hännikäinen-Löfman-Tuppurainen line. There is no way JYP is going to reach final this season with these players, though.
Strengths: Hännikäinen-Löfman-Tuppurainen line + Perrin. Is this line able to find its early-season form and can old man Perrin feed even more goals to in-form attacker Tuomas Pihlman?
Weaknesses: the playing style. The way JYP attacks is too simple and they can be blocked too easily. They have also made lots of mistakes in defense which has become a big issue. Goaltending is also nowhere near on the level it was earlier this season.
The Surprise: attacker Tuomas Pihlman has found a great form
The Performer: attacker Jani Tuppurainen and in fact the whole attacking line. He’s one of the best attackers in Liiga and a crucial piece of JYP with his attitude and experience
The Disappointment: Defending overall, it’s way too messy and error-prone right now.
SaiPa is the most potential team in Liiga from the betting perspective. It’s a very predictable team with its performances when you know what the strengths and weaknesses are. SaiPa has a strong team who could challenge everyone else in Liiga except maybe not Kärpät. They had problems earlier this season when the points were scored by a too small group of players but now this has improved. Overall we’d still expect more from the 1st-choice line Tavi-Koho-Mankinen. This trio was the best part of SaiPa in playoffs last year and expectations have been clearly higher.
Strengths: HUNGER and physics in general. The key players are also very high quality: Markkanen, Löfqvist, McIntyre.
Weaknesses: they practically have no 2nd-choice goalkeeper. The 1st-choice line have to improve from what we’ve seen so far.
The Surprise: defender Sam Löfqvist has played a sensational season so far, he has tons of potential, excellent skating, good shot and crowned with a top-class attitude.
The Performer: David McIntyre is definitely one of the top centre-forwards in the Liiga. He’s a team player who does his defensive duties as well but got also capacity to score. He’s been an excellent signing from SaiPa and their best player so far.
The Disappointment: defender Brian Salcido has improved from the disastrous early season, though. Even if you are an attacking-minded defenseman you still have to be able to defend as well; so far Salcido has made awful lot of easy defensive mistakes.
Bonus: our overall betting view for SaiPa. To put it roughly, SaiPa is a good idea when they are rated as underdogs but avoid them when they are put as clear favorites. They rarely lose games with a high margin and it’s even more rare they have a match where they are totally outplayed.
Lukko is rated here based on the roster they have available right now when key players Vahalahti (coming back soon) and Gagnon are out. Lukko have looked very tired and lacking inspiration badly in January at the times. Though, the latest 5-0 win over Tappara was certainly a flash of something better. The clean sheet was a very important for goalkeeper Zapolski, who has been insecure for long time now.
Strengths: the leading players have experience and know what it takes to win (Vahalahti, Niskala)
Weaknesses: goaltending is far from the level where it should be. The depth of the squad; they have too few players capable of deciding matches.
The Surprise: attacker Olavi Vauhkonen has exceeded expectations. The attacker with a big frame has scored nice amount of goals and is a very dangerous player when he parks himself near the opponent goal.
The Performer: attacker Ville Vahalahti is a solid performer and a leader week after week.
The Disappointment: attacker Jesper Piitulainen has failed badly so far after flashing his talent last season
Ässät is the best away team in the league so far! Overall they have overperformed and got a lot of points due to a very, very hot goalkeeper. They have definitely had more points so far they deserved. Ässät have also many key players injured currently: Elo (leading goal scorer), Ryan, Lähteenmäki.
Strengths: Ässät have currently the most in-form goalie in the league, Juuso Riksman. They also have probably the best defender in Liiga: Esa Lindell.
Weaknesses: the depth of the squad, there really aren’t many top quality players. The injuries of the key guys listed earlier: can they get back to full fitness in time?
The Surprise: attacker Eero Elo, who can create scoring chances out of nowhere. Very convincing work so far.
The Performer: defender Esa Lindell, he’s either The Best or one of the best defenders in the league right now.
The Disappointment: home performances
HPK have improved a lot lately; they possess a good team spirit which shows on how players are fighting on the ice right now. Goalkeeper Juuso Saros is a solid performer who can keep high standards week after week. However, the roster is very limited so the question is how far can Saros and team spirit can carry this team.
Strengths: obviously goalie Juuso Saros, HPK is going to need him at his best
Weaknesses: their quality in attack is very limited and HPK is short on players who have capacity to decide matches. If the trio Saarinen, Hamill, Somervuori is out of form it’s difficult to see anyone else being able to help either.
The Surprise: defender Petteri Nikkilä has played a great and balanced season and is a very important piece of HPK this season
The Performer:attacker Tuomas Vänttinen, who is a player any hockey fan would love to watch. He would rather eat the puck than let it go to his own goal. The best player in Liiga in the role he has and indispensable to HPK right now. Every time he’s on ice he gives 100% to his own team.
The Disappointment: defender Aleksi Laakso has failed to fill the role he was expected to
This is a really strong view against one of the hottest teams in Liiga right now, but it simply feels impossible to see Blues to continue this forever. They have been so lucky, but one has to admit that Blues have also been enjoying of some great goaltending lately. They are playing in the limits of their skills every night and success has fed the players even to play above that. We think this is what Blues is about right now.
Strengths: goalies Laurikainen / Nieminen (who has finally found a steady level) has been very strong and Blues need them to continue on this path if they are to succeed
Weaknesses: the player material is simply not good enough, they have to perform at the 100% level every single evening. Key players have been stressed a lot as well.
The Surprise: defender Otso Rantakari. He’s a real power-play threat and one could even call him a power-play specialist.
The Performer: attacker Kim Hirschovits has been solid and when he has a good day he’s a really good attacker and a key man in Blues
The Disappointment: defender Olli Malmivaara. He was hopeless earlier this season, improved lately, but still making way too many mistakes
Ilves have been playing on about a level we have expected and they don’t simply have quality in the roster to go any higher than this. The quality of goalkeepers is the main thing separating Ilves from HPK + Blues duo. Ilves is a hard-working team who can often fight well against any team in the league, but only fight. And not able to turn their efforts into goals. The quality of attackers is just so much lower compared to the top teams.
Strengths: Ilves is going to win and lose with this hard-working style they have. There are no other weapons really in this team.
Weaknesses: goalkeeping and material in general.
The Surprise: Tapio Laakso. He’s been formerly known as a hard worker but now he was even selected as the player of the month in January. Laakso has been in a great form the past month.
The Performer: attacker Sami Sandell has been able to fill the expectations set for him. Defender Jarkko Näppilä has also been very good and is the defensive leader of Ilves.
The Disappointment: attacker Steven Zalewski. He has the attitude week after week but simply cannot score enough.
The bottom three is already “out of it” but we go through them quickly as well here.
We think Sport is the hungriest of the bottom 3 teams and that’s why we rate them above Pelicans. They have already shown at this point of the season they were worth the much-debated cabinet promotion. Sport is fighting well week after week and shows hunger, even if the player material is so, so very weak.
Pelicans have suffered so bad from injuries this season. They had also tons of bad luck and tight games turned so often to losses. This has eaten the team morale a lot during the whole campaign.
TPS has been a total farce this season. They have done everything wrong in Turku you can possibly do wrong. One could already see the signs of what is going to happen earlier this season. The leading players of this team were just playing for their selves and not for the team like we’ve written in our previews as well. But most of all TPS was lacking badly discipline, it was a bunch of players after individual glory and not playing for the team. Coach Elomo was put to a position he just couldn’t handle as an inexperienced coach. This season will remain in history as a really humiliating campaign.