NHL

Breaking Down Best Line Combinations for Team USA at 2014 Winter Olympics

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28:  Zach Parise (2nd L) #9 of the United States celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal to tie the scores 2-2 late in the third during the ice hockey men's gold medal game between USA and Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Nicholas GossCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2013

Team chemistry is an important factor in Olympic success.

One of the toughest challenges for United States head coach Dan Bylsma prior to the 2014 Olympics will be finding the best line combinations and defensive pairings to give his team the best chance for a gold-medal triumph.

We have seen so many talented teams fail during Olympic competition because they don't have the proper amount of chemistry despite their great amount of talent.

As Bylsma and his assistant coaches observe training camp next month and determine which players will make the final roster, they will also get an early look at which lines and pairings work best.

Let's break down the best possible line combinations and defensive pairings for the United States.

Note: For the full roster of United States Olympic camp invites, click here.

 

Line 1

LineLWCRW
1Zach Parise (MIN)Ryan Kesler (VAN)Patrick Kane (CHI)

This is the best possible line that Bylsma could put together. If Kesler is healthy, he will be the first-line center. The Canucks star is one of the better two-way forwards in the game and reliable on faceoffs.

His playmaking skills are a good fit between two talented goal scorers in Kane and Parise. The Chicago Blackhawks winger is the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner and arguably the most creative player in the world with his amazing combination of speed, goal-scoring ability and passing skills. He also started the gold medal game against Canada in Vancouver alongside Kesler on the team's first line.

Parise is not as talented offensively as Kane, but he's a better defensive player and brings more physicality to the ice. The Minnesota Wild superstar is also one of the top candidates to captain the team and embodies the strong work ethic and dedication that made the 2010 squad so successful.

These two wingers played an integral part in Team USA's silver medal victory in 2010, and unless injuries complicate Bylsma's lineup, they must be on the same line in Sochi.

 

Line 2

LineLWCRW
2James Van Riemsdyk (TOR)Joe Pavelski (SJS)Phil Kessel (TOR)

This line would have the opportunity to score a lot of goals. These three players all have an impressive goal-scoring resume at the NHL level and are excellent on the power play (this trio combined for 38 points with the man advantage last year).

One of the best ways to assemble a line with good chemistry in an international tournament is to put players from the same team together, and that's why pairing Kessel and Van Riemsdyk is a good idea. They understand each other's abilities and have a level of trust built up from their experience on the same line in Toronto last season. It should also be noted that Pavelski and Kessel played on the same line during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Given Pavelski's experience playing with talented offensive players in San Jose and ability to make his linemates better, he is the best fit to play center between Kessel and JVR.

 

Line 3

LineLWCRW
3Bobby Ryan (OTT)Derek Stepan (NYR)Ryan Callahan (NYR)

Stepan and Callahan's experience playing together with the New York Rangers should result in them being on the same line at the Olympics. Stepan is a fantastic playmaker and would benefit from the skill and toughness that Ryan and Callahan, two top-tier power forwards, bring to the ice each shift.

The Rangers winger is also the best candidate to captain the team in Sochi. His grit, shot blocking and physical play will also be important to the team's defensive success. Putting him on a line with another power forward and a center who understands his game well is the best option for Bylsma when creating a third line that will give the team a strong three-zone presence.

 

Line 4

LineLWCRW
4Max Pacioretty (MTL)David Backes (STL)Dustin Brown (LAK)

The grit, toughness and defensive skill of this trio would allow it to play a normal fourth-line style of hockey while also providing valuable scoring depth.

Backes is one of the NHL's top defensive forwards and a player who Bylsma can trust to take important facoeffs, especially ones in the defensive zone.

Brown is also a reliable player in his own end and will add the necessary amount of truculence that the United States needs to wear down its opponents physically. He's proven to be a clutch performer in his playoff experience with the Los Angeles Kings, which includes a Stanley Cup championship two seasons ago.

Pacioretty compliments these players with his high compete level, willingness to back check and impressive scoring ability.

Given the experience Brown and Backes have from their time as linemates during the 2010 Olympics, it would be wise of Bylsma to put them together in Sochi.

 

Defense Pairings

PairingDefenseDefense
1Ryan Suter (MIN)Ryan McDonagh (NYR)
2Keith Yandle (PHX)Brooks Orpik (PIT)
3Jack Johnson (CBJ)Kevin Shattenkirk (STL)

There are so many different combinations for Bylsma to explore when building his blue line. The first step is to create a shutdown pairing that will shoulder the burden of preventing the opposing teams' best forwards from dominating offensively.

This pairing should be Suter and McDonagh, because both are exceptional in their own end with physical play, strong defensive awareness, good penalty killing and a willingness to block shots. They are the United States' two best defensemen and must be paired together against opponents with high-powered offenses, such as Canada, Russia and Sweden.

The remaining pairings are interchangeable based on certain matchups that the United States faces against each opponent.

Yandle and his offensive skill set would be a good fit alongside a more physical, defensive-minded player in Orpik. Johnson and Shattenkirk would give Bylsma a pairing that would bring smooth skating, puck-moving skill and power-play ability to the Olympic-sized ice that will be used in Sochi, which is larger than the rinks used in the NHL.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.

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