Taking home the gold in 2010 on Canadian soil would have been sweet for Team USA. Doing so against the hometown Canadians would have been that much sweeter. A silver medal was not expected with the talent on the ice for Team USA hockey, but now is the time to show that 2010 was more legitimate than fluky.
The core remains strong for the U.S., as Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, and Ryan Miller, among others, return. One player who was expected to suit up for the Stars and Stripes, Bobby Ryan, was left off the roster. Newcomers such as Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, and James van Reimsdyk add an infusion of youth and untapped talent that can carry teams far into the Olympic round-robin tournament in Sochi.
The top six forwards are as good as any not in Canada. The bottom six has some flaws, as speed and scoring will more than likely plague them. The defensive prowess of Ryan Callahan, Blake Wheeler, and Joe Pavelski could leave scoring up to Parise and co. Pavelski could be Team USA’s ace in the hole because of his knack to adapt to whoever he centers on a line. The two way play of Team USA hockey is rivaled by only the neighbors to the north.
Speed is also a skill the U.S. lacks up front. The group of power forwards on the roster would make smaller teams like Sweden and Finland jealous, and that’s without snubs Kyle Okposo and Brandon Saad. The 12 forwards cannot afford to get into foot races with speedy Canada and Russia, or else the penalties and goals will mount quickly.
There are a lot of puck-moving blueliners here. Fowler, Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh will all see time on the man advantage. Suter is a minute-munching monster, averaging just under 30 minutes a contest in the NHL. Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik have played well together in Pittsburgh, and Team USA hockey and Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma thought both were deserving. While Orpik is a responsible defensive defenseman, his liabilities skating will be exposed on the larger international ice surface.
The D corps also lacks toughness and playing with size. Outside of Orpik and occasionally John Carlson, you won’t see the U.S. mix it up in front of the net where games can be won and lost. The best teams in the world will have at least a handful of guys ready to set up camp in the goalie crease. Carlson was Amercia’s darling during their run to World Juniors gold in 2010.
What looked like an obvious strength in net has yo-yoed during the NHL’s regular season. Projected starter Miller has been peppered with pucks all season behind the worst defense in hockey in Buffalo. Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard have battled injuries all season, but have shored up their games in 2014. It is important for Miller to establish himself in net for the first save. He or Quick may have to steal a game against in a tough group stage.
Group A opponents
Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia
Projected group finish
2nd– 5 points
4th– Lose in 3rd place game
Follow Jeff on Twitter @sckih_ffej for more sports and entertainment ramblings. Jeff also contributes fantasy advice for The Fantasy Fix.
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