Sunday, February 14, 2010

The NHL's Olympic Break Will Be 100% In Effect Later Tonight...

The Caps finished their pre-Olympic Break game last night at ~11:15 EST in Saint Louis, however there are five more games today before the NHL is officially "on break." The Tampa Bay Lightning play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden this afternoon in a game which could solidify the Lightning's resurgence into playoff contention before the break. Nashville plays Pittsburgh at the Igloo in a game between two solid teams though right now Nashville is on the Western Conference playoff bubble and needs the two points a lot more than the Penguins. Vancouver completes their 14 game pre-Olympic road trip odyssey in the Twin Cities where they take on the struggling Minnesota Wild. The hot Ottawa Senators take on the New York Islanders at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, and in what should be the final game before the break the Anaheim Ducks will be in Edmonton to take on the cellar dwelling Oilers.

So while five members of the Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Semyon Varlomov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tomas Fleischmann are making their way today from Saint Louis to Vancouver, ten NHL teams including a few of their upcoming weeks' opponents and teammates will be competing in the last NHL games before the Olympics hiatus. The Men's' Olympics Hockey Tournament gets underway on Tuesday. The Women's Tournament is already underway. The Men's competition is loaded with numerous teams that could win a medal. Everyone knows about the Russians, the Canadians and the Swedes, as well as the longer shot USA. But teams from the Czech Republic, Finland, Switzerland, Belarus and Slovakia are all also solid squads who will give the other teams a run for their money.

In fact the tournament starts with 12 teams in three groups of four for the Preliminary Round. Group A consists of: Switzerland, Norway, Canada, and USA. Group B consists of: Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Latvia. Group C consists of: Finland, Sweden, Belarus, and Germany. Following the completion of the 18 game preliminary round the 12 teams will be ranked and the qualification round will be held; the top four teams will get a bye and teams 5 through 12 will face each other in a set of elimination games leading up to the medal games. To be sure the four teams that are most talked about Russia, Sweden, Canada, and USA are all loaded with talent.

After all Canada is so loaded with talent they felt chemistry and style of play were important enough and they had enough talented blue-liners to choose from to leave the top ranked defenseman in the TSN.CA NHL Player Rankings off the squad. After all why should one put Mike Green for inclusion on the team, he was only a Norris Trophy finalist last season. He's only second in the NHL in +/-, behind not someone on the Canadian Team but his teammate and fellow Calgary native Jeff Schultz. In scoring Green leads the league in both all categories: goals, assists and points. Of course in old school hockey, we tend to value stay at home defensemen more than guys like Mike Green, after all we all know they score their goals by cheating on defense and that means they let the other guys skate freer and score more goals against their team. But wait, if that's so then why is it that Green has ratings that place him clearly into the top 15 defensemen in the league in all statistical measures of defense such as Corsi ratings, etc. as well. Also keep in mind that list of top 15 include numerous (at least 5) players who are ineligible for inclusion on Team Canada as they are already playing for other teams like Sweden (Nicklas Lidstrom); and some others that no one would suggest be included because they don't have the mobility required to play in this years Olympics. In the end, I know this is probably me being a fan, but to me, the biggest and most ill considered snub, all be it, an expected one is the exclusion of Green from the Canadian Olympics squad. Whether Green's exclusion has any negative impact on where Canada finishes the tournament or not remains to be seen and it may not matter given how many excellent players Canada has on their roster, but the pressure is on the home team to capture gold in this signature event.

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming; wait the Russians are here. The Russian Olympic team is also loaded with NHL talent. In fact the squad is anchored by a mix of veteran NHL stars like Evgeni Nabakov and Sergei Gonchar, as well as several "young guns" including Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Semin. Like the Canadians, the Russians are basically, an NHL All Star Team. Those players who are not currently in the NHL are all well known international stars like Sergei Federov and there is no one on the team that can be taken lightly.

Often overlooked by we North Americans in this whole discussion is the defending champions aren't from North America or Russia, they are from Sweden. Isn't that weird? The Swedes are also loaded with NHL talent and have their own controversy over the snub of Johan Franzen buzzing around.

Team USA is fielding a team that probably has the best chance to medal in some time, but if the US has a legitimate chance to medal which they do, so do the Czechs, and the Slovaks, and that as we say is why the games will be played on the ice. this time in Vancouver, a beautiful city, I sure wish I could go and see some of these games live. If for no other reason than to see former Caps like Milan Jurcina and Sergei Federov in action....

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