Monday, February 10, 2014

Olympic Hockey Predictions/Preview

1)  With the Sochi games already underway and the hockey tournament set to commence this Wednesday when Czech Republic plays Sweden to start the road to gold. There are 12 teams broken into 3 4 team groupings.  Group A has Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, USAGroup B has Austria, Canada, Finland, Norway.  Group C has Czech Republic, Latvia, Sweden, Switzerland.  Each group has the heavy favourites A- Russia, B- Canada, C-Sweden. Of the 3 C appears the weakest, and A the strongest, but overall since ALL 12 teams will advance beyond the ' preliminary round the biggest thing to p;lay for will be seeding and a bye. They will be seeded 1 through 12 based on their preliminary round performance. The top four teams earn a bye to the quarterfinal round. The fifth seed will take on the 12th seed in the qualification round, the sixth seed  the 11th seed, etc. The next round is Single elimination. So you lose, you're out!

2)  We will go through each group, discussing each teams' chances/strengths/weaknesses. Listing our predicted order of finish

Group A-
  • USA: Put together by general manager David Poile who it appears had the roster determined before the season even started. Leaving off the roster Kyle Okposo, Bobby Ryan and Keith Yandle.One of the biggest assets the United States has is between the pipes. Both Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick are top 5 in the NHL and can carry the team for 2 weeks. The American leadership core will build on that experience with a talented group of teammates in Sochi. Team USA boasts an impressive mix of speed, size, grit and scoring punch despite the Ryan and Okposo snubs.They should win 2 of their 3 prelim games
  • Russia:Normally home ice is an advantage, but NOT here! That said, the Russians have one of the most dangerous offenses out of any team in the Olympic games. With Datsyuk, Ovechkin  Malkin  Kovalchuk, Anisimov and Alex Semin. but the team's bottom-six forwards could leave some defensive holes.Aside from Markov, Tyutin and Slava Voynov, no names jump out at you on the Russian back line.  The difference from past teams could be in  net where Vezina winner Sergei Brobrovsky and Semyon Varlamo could make up for defensive deficiencies, possibly allowing them to sweep the prelim round
  • Slovakia: Not nearly as strong as in past years when they were a dark horse to medal. With the aging/retirements of some big name Slovak talents the team is now undermanned compared with the powers like the USA/Russia.  That said with Chara on D, Halak in net and with Marian and Marcel Hossa along with the stellar play of youngster Tomas Tatar gives Slovakia good scorers on their top lines.  They will probably beat Slovenia, then they're done
  • Slovenia: Only Kopitar has extensive NHL experience. That will definitely hurt in a group that is loaded with it otherwise.In a group that is packed teams that are chock full of NHL players, the Slovenians are at a severe disadvantage in that department. Any points they achieve will be a surprise
Group B-
  • Canada: As is always the case, Canada enters Sochi as the prohibitive favorite to win the gold medal.The defending champion Canadians head to Sochi without the benefit of home ice advantage that they had in Vancouver 2010, but still with one of the most formidable rosters in the competition. There are definite goaltending question marks though with Canada bringing Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith to Sochi.  Canada could probably field 2 rosters of forwards to no problem there. Can they outscore everyone?  They should easily win 2 games in the prelim round, but we could see an upset against the pesky Finns
  • Finland: They are the defending bronze medallists in the tournament.Finland comes into the Olympics with a blend of fresh faces and old legends. Finland has included a familiar face, 43-year old Teemu Selanne. With  Lehtonen,  Niemi, and Rask in  net the Finns can probably make up for their less than stellar defensive corps. Pittsburgh rookie Olli Maatta could be a difference maker here As we alluded to earlier the Finns will likely beat the 2 weaker group members and could pull off an upset over power house Canada to gain a first round bye
  • Austria:The Austrians make their first Olympic appearance in Sochi. Only Islander fans will be rooting for/care about Team Austria with Grabner/Vanek being their only legit players.  Defense appears a problem but goalie Bernard Starkbaum, who, plays in the Swedish Elite League, will be no pushover in net. He has been one of the better goaltenders in the SEL this season.  That said, at best they beat Norway in the Prelims
  • Norway:The Norwegians enter their second consecutive Olympic tournament and are looking for the first win.  Sorry Square-heads,don't expect it to happen this time. Norway will bring in one player that currently makes his living in the NHL, Rangers winger Mats (I'm NOT a WOP) Zuccarello. Goalie Lars Haugen is a KHL regular and starts for Minsk and could keep the team in games but an utter lack of depth at any other position  will doom them to another last place finish in their Group
 Group C-
  • Sweden: The Swedish team boasts a deep lineup at all three levels: forward, defense, and goaltender. But I guess that’s what happens when a country (Like Canada and the USA) fields a roster nearly entirely comprised entirely of NHL players. This is the first Olympics of the NHL era that will not feature legend Nicklas Lidstromand we feel this could be huge later in the tournament.  Of course Ekman-Larsson and Erik Karlsson and Kronwall aren't chopped liver either In  net Lundqvist is still among the very best goaltenders in the game, and as such, gives Sweden a legitimate shot at winning, but overall we don't like the chemistry of the team, especially up front. They should though win their 3 prelim games to get a bye in to the Quarters
  • Switzerland:  Switzerland is fast emerging onto the world stage as a legitimate hockey power.There are no superstars on the roster,  but Isles fans will lament seeing Niederreiter and
    Streit playing for the Swiss as top players. Some said that Jonas Hiller was the best player in the entire 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and as we know goal tending is always huge, especially i  a short tournament. They also  have a formidable defense so an upset over Sweden wouldn't be a shock, though more likely they will win 2 of their 3 prelim games
  • Latvia:  The Latvians make a fourth consecutive Olympic appearance and they always provide a respectable level of competition for the contenders, but never good enough to achieve an upset, but can you take a team seriously that has 45 year old Sandis Ozolinsh as one of its top blue liners?  Will he be sober? They might be able to beat the elderly/undermined Czechs, but we expect little else
  • Czech Republic: Lets just say any team adding a 48 year old Peter Nedved is in deep trouble.  Additionally they have Jaromir Jagr who despite having a good season in Jersey, is also 48. Where is Dominic Hasek? We don't like any aspect of this roster. Sure we're happy JJ is having a Renaissance in NJ but he's not going to propel an undermanned team into a medal run.  In fact we wouldn't be shocked to see them finish dead last in their Group and easily dispatched in the medal round. Not this time Czechs!
3) On to the medal round. Here we expect to see the Russians, Canadians, Americans and Finns to win byes.  As for the other 8 we see the Swiss, Slovaks, Czechs and Austrians advancing to the Quarters. From there we don't like the Americans or Russians to go past here, while we wouldn't be shocked to see the Finns and Swiss upset a top qualifier leading to our final prediction. Yes, Canada will move to the semis and we can see a Canada-Finland Final where a rematch of the opening round will be seen.  Could we see the Finns beating the much heralded Canadians twice in 2 weeks?  We say absolutely.  So we are on record saying that we predict the Gold medal will be won by Finland. Silver for Canada and Bronze for   Switzerland.

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