The Winter Olympics were officially opened on Friday and starting Monday the NHL takes a backseat to the biggest hockey tournament in the world. With that in mind we’ll preview that tournament and let you know who the medal contenders are and of course give a prediction.
The tournament consists of 12 teams split into three groups of four as follows:
Group A – Canada; United States; Switzerland; Norway
Group B – Russia; Czech Republic; Slovakia; Latvia
Group C – Sweden; Finland; Belarus; Germany
Each team in a given group plays the other teams once in a round-robin after which the top team from each group plus the fourth best team remaining are given byes into the quarter-finals while the remainder of the teams play a preliminary playoff round to determine who will play those four top teams. Conventional wisdom says that only six of these teams has any real shot at the podium namely Canada, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Russia, and the United States (perhaps Finland can slip in their too but it’s unlikely). In a tournament like this where every team qualifies for the elimination round it only takes one good game from a “lesser” team to upset the balance which is part of what makes this such an exciting event. With that said we’ll focus on the six, possibly seven, teams who are likely to be in serious medal contention starting with the hosting Canadians.
Considered by many to be the favorites to win the gold in Vancouver the Canadians have an incredibly talented roster (see http://proicehockey.about.com/od/olympichockey/a/2010-canada-roster.htm for full roster) and will be sound in every facet of the game. With a team this strong there is really no meaningful technical analysis that can be done to assess how they will finish. For Canada their biggest issues will be staying healthy and more importantly handling the pressure from the home crowd and media because they will be fully expected to win the gold medal with anything less being considered a failure. I think Canada’s greatest advantage will be their biggest downfall in that the crowd will be with them and that’s always helpful but if things do not go exactly as planned the pressure is going to mount big time and likely lead to Canada cracking under the pressure. It’s not so much because the players can’t handle the expectations as much as the pressure will cause them to play cautiously at times and the Russians (who I think will win the gold) will not have the same pressure on them so they can play loosely and seize the moments Canada plays tight resulting in disappointment for the whole country as they take the silver medal.
As for Russia they too have such a great roster together that technically there is little to speak of but there are some weaknesses for Russia. First off the biggest head-scratcher for them is that they have so many KHL players on their roster who were chosen over some NHL guys who could have (and perhaps should have) been on the team. Not only will these guys have a tough time adjusting to the North American ice size and style of play but in the opinion of most simply are not as talented as their NHL counterparts. Despite possibly diluting their talent pool the Russians still have a ton of fire power on their s squad (see http://www.2010tracker.com/2009/12/25/russia-announces-olympic-mens-hockey-team-roster/ for full roster) which can certainly outscore anyone at even strength but also results in them having an incredibly good power play unit. Teams will have to be concerned with every penalty they take because the Russians are likely to make you pay for almost any power play opportunity given to them. Their goal scoring prowess along with some great play in net will likely lead Russia to the Gold medal in this tournament. (It also doesn’t hurt that they have won two World Championships in a row).
The remainder of the top six are likely only going to be in contention for the Bronze medal (as long as the match-ups work out so that Russia and Canada end up meeting in the final).
Starting with team Sweden; although the Swedes are the defending Olympic champions their team looks good on paper but is an aged group of players and it is unlikely they will be able to keep pace with Canada or Russia but those teams aside the Swedes can make some hey against everyone else and that is why they are my favorite to take the Bronze.
Perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum is team USA who has a very talented team but are very young (see http://proicehockey.about.com/od/olympichockey/a/2010-usa-roster.htm for full roster). It is unlikely that a team so lacking in experience can make a serious challenge for Silver or Gold but the strength of the rest of the field puts them squarely in the middle of the race for the Bronze medal. All team USA needs is to have their guys play reasonably well and have Ryan Miller steal a couple of games for them in the medal round to have a legitimate shot at the Bronze medal. Although the Bronze medal would be great for the Americans a fourth or fifth place finish would be quite an accomplishment for this upstart squad.
The Czech Republic has a very formidable roster assembled with a number of NHL players led by former NHLer and current KHL all-star Jaromir Jagr (see http://bleacherreport.com/articles/123948-2010-olympic-hockey-outlook-team-czech-republic for full roster). With the nice mix of young and veteran players the Czech Republic have to be considered co-favorites along with Sweden to grab the Bronze medal. The reason they are unlikely to make a push for the Gold is because they have a solid roster but no one really stands out on their team. Tomas Vokoun is probably their biggest star and while a goaltender can steal a game or two for you it would take that along with a star or two to carry the team any further than that and the Czechs simply do not have that.
The Slovakian team also has a fairly solid line-up just a step below the Czechs (see http://bleacherreport.com/articles/126346-2010-olympic-hockey-outlook-team-slovakia for full roster). And much like the Czechs the Slovakian squad lacks in big stars which hurts their chances to even compete for the Bronze medal. Their roster top to bottom is very solid but it’s pretty underwhelming with Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa being their best players but Chara is a defensemen and Hossa is certainly not the player today he was even three years ago. So while a Bronze medal is a reasonable goal for this team they will likely not even be able to get that far and should probably be ready to accept a preliminary round win and that’s about it.
Those are my predictions but in such a short tournament just about anything can happen so it will be very exciting no matter what. Enjoy the games everybody, we’ll see you next time.
The 2010 Winter Classic by all accounts was a big time success and I agree completely. The magic of the day was not tarnished by anything; the weather was great, the ice held up extremely well, the fans were fired up, and the game itself was spectacular. Three cheers for everybody who helps make this game happen because it’s certainly a treat for everyone and congratulations to the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers for putting on a great show leaving us all wanting for more.
In the meantime the other big news to come out over the holidays was the announcement of the various Olympic team rosters set to take the ice next month. At the moment the easy favorites to win the Gold Medal are Canada and Russia with the Canadians possibly holding a slight edge over Russia because the tournament will be held on the smaller North American size ice along with the fact that the games will be held in Canada which instantly gives them a boost. On the other hand, one might say that the games being held in Canada yields a slight advantage to the Russians because Canadians traditionally have a ton of pressure on them to win the Gold Medal anyway but now that pressure is intensified since Team Canada will be playing on home ice. Although there is a fair amount of pressure on the Russians as well there will no doubt be a lot less on them than on the Canadians which will allow them to simply relax and play hockey without worrying about any other distractions. Despite those factors it is still a virtual toss-up between the two teams in trying to pick the favorite but you can’t really go wrong either going for gold and everyone else likely battling for the bronze.
On the rest of the NHL front there are a number of teams streaking in both the right and wrong direction. The San Jose sharks are currently the hottest team in the league as the smoked Edmonton 4-1 on Saturday to improve their win streak to eight. Despite the streak the fans in San Jose are cautiously optimistic as they’ve been down this road before. In each of the last three years the Sharks have posted over a hundred points—winning the President’s trophy last year—and faltered come playoff time. This year’s teams is by far the best they’ve ever had but the question is can they finally carry over this success into the post-season.
Another team enjoying recent success is the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite losing to Boston in the Winter Classic on Friday, the Flyers have won four out of five and have earned at least a point in five straight. There is a long way to go for the Flyers who have dug themselves quite a hole but it seems they have managed to turn things around and make a legitimate push toward the playoffs almost overnight.
The Calgary Flames are also in the midst of a four game winning streak after coming from behind to defeat Toronto 3-1 on Saturday. This is a team in a situation similar to San Jose in that they have had a decent amount of regular season success that they have not been able to translate into the post-season. Strong goaltending has always been there for Calgary but what separates them from last year’s squad is a much stronger blueline with the addition Jay Bouwmeester in the offseason who is a plus 13 to date. It is his presence that has helped Dion Phaneuf up his game a bit and also takes some pressure off of Kiprusoff which is why this year is probably Calgary’s best chance they’ve had in years to advance deep into the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are streaking as well but in the wrong direction. With their 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon the Penguins have lost four in a row, scored only one goal in two games, and blew a 3-0 lead to the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the week. In a long season there are many ups and downs but the alarming thing for Pittsburgh is the way they’ve been losing. There is a long way to go and the Penguins have too much talent for such a streak to continue but they’ve got to find a way to score more consistently and protect leads when they get them.
The worst of the losing streaks belongs to the Atlanta Thrashers who have lost 8 games in a row after a great start to the season. There’s really no surprise it’s simply Atlanta being Atlanta until they show me otherwise.
Well that’s a run around the league a little bit. I hope everyone enjoyed the Winter Classic and have a great time ringing in the New Year! Have a great 2010 everybody!
I have a “bone” to pick. MLB, ESPN, and WFAN call all kiss my ass! I am sorry that it took me this long to realize it and I apologize to our readers for not addressing this sooner. It has been 15 months since the release of the Mitchell Report. In that time we have seen the games biggest stars fall from grace. They have either been caught or accused of abusing illegal drugs in hope of enhancing their performance on the field. They have been disgraced as well as their families, teams, fans and countries. We have shamed them for it. We have listened to beat writers, talk show hosts and “analysts” talk about their influence on children and the negative effects they have on children.
Why is it then that all three of these major sports media outlets allow Pfizer to advertise Viagra during baseball games? Viagra is a performance enhancing drug is it not? Who is responsible for this? This is an outrage. How do I explain what erectile dysfunction is to my five year old daughter during the 5th inning of USA vs Canada? Which by the way was not a prime time telecast. Even tonight in the wake of The Netherlands upset over La Republica Domincana, ESPN is still firing away at Roger Clemens and the fabricated evidence against him in an attempt to tear him down yet after the story aired the next block of commercials included an add for Viagra. Give me a break!
Advertising during prime time when the kids should be in bed is one thing. Yet, Baseball is sacred. Is it not? I do not care what time it is, drugs should not be pushed on us during sporting events. It sends a terrible message. The wrong message. How can you take your kids to a baseball game when there are signs up all over the place with old ugly pediphiles on them trying to keep an erection?
You would think they would have pulled the adds considering the poster child for abusing performance enhancing drugs and lying about it was also peddling Viagra. Has anyone seen Rafael Palmeiro lately?
The NHL’s second Winter Classic is only two days away and the sports world should be in for a real treat. The Chicago Blackhawks have won 9 straight games and have recorded a point in each of their last ten. Not only is winning nine straight impressive but the Hawks have been putting away some very good teams including at home against Philadelphia and four road games against Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Minnesota. Chicago is getting great play from not just their big stars (Kane, Sharp, Toews, Campbell) but also from guys like defensemen Duncan Keith who has 18 points and is a plus 19 for the season. They are a solid team and are finally coming together to create what could be something very special not only in the years to come but this season in particular.
On January 1st the Blackhawks welcome the Detroit Red Wings to Wrigley Field and rumor has it that the Red Wings are pretty good… Clearly the Red Wings are very good for not only are they the defending Stanley Cup champions but they are second in the West with 50 points trailing only the amazing San Jose Sharks who the Wings recently pummeled 6-0. Complimenting the Wings would take all day so I’ll just let mentioning names like Lindstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Hossa, and Frazen (among many others) do all the explaining themselves. Not only will the atmosphere be great but the hockey won’t be half bad either. The fans are hyped and the players are excited as face-off approaches. In two days the eyes of the hockey universe will be focused on Chicago, live at 1pm eastern time on NBC in the US and CBC and RDS in Canada. The wait… is almost over.
The second annual Winter Classic (to be held 1/1/2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago) is fast approaching and if their first two games are any indication the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are going to put on quite a show. In their first match-up the Blackhawks built-up a 4-2 lead only to see that slip away resulting in a 6-5 shootout win by Detroit. Saturday night the two teams collided again with Detroit taking the early lead only to lose it to Chicago who again earned a 4-2 lead over Detroit. And again, much like the first game, Detroit battled back and ultimately got the best of Chicago in a shootout 5-4. Watching the established stars in Detroit (Zetterberg, Lindstrom, Hossa, etc.) face-off against rising stars like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane is extremely entertaining; it is kind of a way of looking into the game’s present and while also seeing where it is headed in the future and boy does the future look bright. Having played two close games has only increased the anticipation of the game as the intensity level has taken a major leap as Detroit has frustrated the young Blackhawks who badly want to get over the hump that is the Red Wings—healthy animosity is building. If this all holds up the National audiences in the U.S. and Canada and those watching around the world are in for a real treat.
Let me start by saying how great the respective ceremonies were honoring Patrick Roy and Wendel Clark. The Canadiens (Roy) and Maple Leafs (Clark) paid tribute quite appropriately to two guys’ who each left different marks on the game but both will have a positive impact on the world of hockey for many years to come. In other news it was a showcase day for the original six teams who were all on TV nationally in Canada on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada and on the NHL Network in the U.S. with four of the six matching up against each other—Montreal vs. Boston and Chicago vs. Toronto. Both games were extremely entertaining as they each had one team come from behind late in the game to force overtime with the former being decided in a shootout. Although both home-standing teams lost I think it was fitting that two players were honored on a night that ended in a very exciting manner. The rest of the schedule was entertaining with six games being decided by one goal five needing overtime/a shootout to decide a winner. All-in-all it was a great day to be a hockey fan; the one low point however came in Vancouver’s 3-1 win at the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the first period netminder Roberto Luongo left the game with what appeared to be a substantial injury. We may never know what exactly is wrong with him due to the league’s new ridiculous nondisclosure policy but nevertheless it does not look good for one of the league’s best and most exciting goaltenders.