Projected Roles for Each Montreal Canadien Going to Sochi
Fans of the Montreal Canadiens will get to see lots of their players competing for their home countries at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
Eight members of the Habs will make the trip to Russia, representing Canada, the Czech Republic, Russia, Switzerland and the USA.
Here are the projected roles for each Montreal Canadien going to Sochi.
Max Pacioretty, USA
Projected Role: Fourth-line left winger
Montreal's leading goal scorer, Max Pacioretty made Team USA by inching out Bobby Ryan for the final spot on left wing.
According to the fascinating article by Kevin Allen of USA Today, Pacioretty was actually off the radar as recently as October, as a leg injury had him sidelined. Players such as Ryan and Brandon Saad were ahead of him on the squad's proposed depth chart.
Ultimately, there were two reasons why Pacioretty got the call over Ryan.
First, Pacioretty went on a tear over his last 20 games leading up to selection day, scoring 15 times. This got management's attention and put his name back in the mix.
Second, he was seen as more of a "60-minute player" than Ryan, at least according to Brian Burke's comments in Scott Burnside's ESPN article in which he was allowed to sit in on Team USA's selection meetings.
And so Pacioretty will likely start the Olympics on the fourth line, behind Zach Parise, James Van Riemsdyk and Dustin Brown on the left side.
He will likely be given some power-play time and a chance to move onto the second line if Van Riemsdyk has a slow start to the tournament.
Peter Budaj, Slovakia
Projected Role: Backup goaltender
Peter Budaj is one of the better backup goaltenders in the NHL and will serve the same role for Slovakia at the Sochi Olympics.
Budaj is 5-3-1 with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 2013-14. Despite the impressive stats, the Slovakian goaltending job is Jaroslav Halak's to lose.
The St. Louis Blues netminder has a 17-6-1 record this season to go along with 2.40 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. He also has the experience of being an Olympic starter in Vancouver four years ago.
Barring injury, Halak be relied upon to lead the Slovaks in goal. He'll need to be on top of his game if they hope to repeat their impressive fourth-place finish in 2010.
Tomas Plekanec, Czech Republic
Projected Role: Second-line center
Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plakenec has been a shoo-in for Team Czech Republic throughout the entire selection process and will likely be the team's second-line center when it opens against Sweden on February 12.
The Czech Republic features David Krejci, Roman Cervenka and Martin Hanzal as the other centers on its depth chart.
Krejci will likely center the first line, followed by Plekanec, Hanzal and Cervenka.
Plekanec will likely be counted on the play a similar role for his country as he does for his club, both on and off the ice.
His line will likely line up against the opposition's top line whenever coach Alois Hadamczik has the chance to do so. He will also take important faceoffs, kill penalties and see some time on the second power-play unit.
The team is also counting on his leadership, as he has been named the captain of Team Czech Republic.
Andrei Markov, Russia
Projected Role: First-pairing defenseman
Projecting Andrei Markov's role with Team Russia is easy, as he is quite simply the best defenseman on their roster.
For Markov, the talent and skill level have always been there. The only question mark surrounding him is his ability to avoid injuries.
The 35-year-old veteran underwent three knee surgeries between 2009-2012. He did manage to play a full 48 games in the 2013 lockout-shortened season, however, and has been on the ice for every Montreal Canadiens game this season.
A healthy Andrei Markov will be leaned on heavily by Team Russia on home ice in Sochi.
He'll be a first-pairing defenseman who will also log a lot of time with the man advantage. It would be safe to assume that he'll also kill penalties.
Don't be surprised to see Markov receive upwards of 25 minutes per game for the Russians.
Alexei Emelin, Russia
Projected Role: Third-pairing defenseman
Alexei Emelin proved during the 2013 season that he had the skill to play for Russia at the Olympics, but his late-season knee injury looked like it could have been an obstacle.
Emelin returned to the Canadiens lineup on November 16, however, and has not had any setbacks. The Russian management team is obviously convinced he’s OK, as he has been named to represent the host nation.
The 27-year-old has had an up-and-down 2013-14 season after his return. He looked strong early on but has struggled recently. He was even made a healthy scratch on January 2.
In addition to Emelin, Russia’s defense will include Anton Belov, Andrei Markov, Evgeny Medvedev, Nikita Nikitin, Ilya Nikulin, Fedor Tyutin and Slava Voynov.
Emelin looks best suited for a third-pairing role with Russia, as Markov, Belov, Tyutin and Voynov will likely make up the top four. He’ll be counted on to provide a physical presence to a back end that, on paper, is pretty soft.
Raphael Diaz, Switzerland
Projected Role: Second-pairing defenseman
Raphael Diaz is having a rough time with the Montreal Canadiens, but he will still be counted on heavily by Team Switzerland.
Diaz has been a healthy scratch for each of the last two Canadiens games following a rough month of December where he was a minus-six. On the season, he has 11 points (all assists) and a minus-three rating.
His play for the Canadiens won't be of concern to Team Switzerland management, however, as he is just one of four defenders on the roster who plays in the NHL. He could slide into the top pairing, but a second-pairing role seems to suit him better.
As Diaz is a puck-moving defenseman who skates well, he'll likely see significant power-play time alongside Mark Streit.
Carey Price, Canada
Projected Role: Starting goaltender
Now that Team Canada's goaltenders have officially been named, the debate across the nation begins as to who should be named the tournament starter.
Although three goalies were named to the roster, the decision will likely boil down to Roberto Luongo or Carey Price.
Both are talented goaltenders and arguments could be made for either.
Luongo is the incumbent, having been in goal for Team Canada's gold-medal win against Team USA four years ago in Vancouver. Some, like Martin Brodeur, feel this should be the deciding factor in a tough debate.
"I think when you win the gold medal, you deserve the chance to defend it until someone takes you down," Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Record, via NorthJersey.com. "But, that’s just me."
Price, however, is having a better season, and this is what coach Mike Babcock and general manager Steve Yzerman should look at as they make their final decision.
Luongo has been good this year for Vancouver with a 16-10-6 record. His goals-against average sits at 2.23. Price's same stats compare with a 20-11-4 record and a 2.22 goals against.
As advanced stats tell us, however, comparing goaltenders' records and goals-against averages is pretty much useless since it does not account for the team playing in front of them. Save percentage is the only stat that matters.
Price's 2013-14 save percentage sits at .928, sixth in the NHL. He has the third-most shots against in the NHL at 1,065.
Luongo's save percentage is .922, ranking him 13th, after 894 shots against.
Eight percentage points might not seem like much, but it is quite significant when it comes to save percentage. It is, after all, the difference between seven qualified goalies in the NHL.
There is also lingering concerns about Luongo's health.
After missing three games with a groin injury in late December, the Canucks netminder returned to the ice on January 4 only to miss their game the next day with an ankle injury.
TSN's James Duthie reports that Luongo is not seriously injured, however, and that this is not a long-term injury.
As long as Luongo remains healthy, the debate between who should start in goal for Canada will likely rage on until Babcock names his starter in February. Based on play this season, it should be Price.
P.K. Subban, Canada
Projected Role: Seventh defenseman
The nervous wait is finally over for P.K. Subban and his fans—he has officially been named to Team Canada.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner has been the most debated Canadian Olympic player since the NHL season began in October. But now that he's finally on the team, where does he fit it in?
Assuming coach Mike Babcock sticks by his plan to dress an even number of left- and right-handed defenders, Subban will likely find himself outside the top six when the tournament begins. There just simply isn't room for him on the right side.
It's highly unlikely that Babcock will choose to include Subban in his opening-day top-six ahead of Shea Weber, Drew Doughty or Alex Pietrangelo.
According to IIHF rules, teams can dress 20 skaters instead of the 18 permitted by the NHL. Canada will presumably go with 13 forwards and seven defensemen, which is where Subban will probably find himself.
Subban will likely be given little ice time at even strength but should see a lot of minutes on the power play, where he excels.
He is currently tied with Duncan Keith for most points with the man advantage by a Canadian defenseman. The two could be a lethal power-play pairing in Sochi.
Subban has a unique offensive skill set, and the bigger ice surface will play to his advantage. He will have more room to skate through the neutral zone, and it will be easier to get open for one-timers in the offensive end.
Oh, and having guys like Sydney Crosby and Steven Stamkos up front won't hurt, either.