Sochi 2014: Projecting Team Canada's Forward Lines, Defensive Pairs and Goalie
The wait is finally over.
With just one month to go until the start of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Hockey Canada released its highly anticipated 25-man Olympic team roster Tuesday morning. There were some surprising snubs, but that was essentially a given due to a vast talent pool. Eleven players from the 2010 gold-medal winning squad are back, along with plenty of first-timers hungry to bring back glory from Sochi.
Here's a look at the full 25-man roster:
Goalies (3): Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks); Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens); Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes)
Defensemen (8): Jay Bouwmeester (St. Louis Blues); Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings); Dan Hamhuis (Vancouver Canucks); Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks); Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues); P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens); Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks); Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)
Forwards (14): Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars); Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins); Jeff Carter (Los Angeles Kings); Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins); Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche); Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks); Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh Penguins); Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks); Rick Nash (New York Rangers); Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks); Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks); Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning); John Tavares (New York Islanders); Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)
Team Canada is absolutely stacked at forward and solid overall at defense. The projected lines look like they could carry the squad back to the gold-medal game, albeit on the larger European ice and away from the friendly confines of a home city.
The lines will be determined in the weeks to come, but there's no question that this team could be extremely lethal. This is how it might choose to set the lines and pairings.
Top Forward Line: Kunitz-Crosby-Stamkos
Chris Kunitz (LW): 23 G, 24 A, +22, 44 GP
Sidney Crosby (C): 23 G, 40 A, +11, 44 GP
Steven Stamkos (RW): 14 G, 9 A, +11, 17 GP
Canada's projected top line will be anchored by none other than the Golden Boy himself, Sidney Crosby. The 26-year-old is at the top of his game and has remained healthy this season, leading the league in points with 63 through 44 games behind top-five performances in goals (T-4th) and assists (2nd). Crosby scored the game-winning goal in overtime of the 2010 gold-medal game against the United States and is a lock to lead Team Canada to whatever its destiny will be in Sochi on the top line.
The natural chemistry Crosby has with linemate Chris Kunitz has elevated the latter's play over the past few seasons and makes for a dangerous combination—so dangerous that it makes sense to keep them together in Sochi. Kunitz ranks in the top five in the league in goals (T-4th), plus-minus (2nd) and power-play goals (11, 2nd), making him a quality option for man-advantage play.
Steven Stamkos hasn't played in an NHL game since November 11, 2013, when he broke his leg in a game against the Boston Bruins. However, he was selected to the team and has been skating recently in practice in full gear, meaning his return in time for the games should be set to go. Stamkos' early numbers looked good; he had 23 points and a plus-11 in 17 games. While he plays center for the Tampa Bay Lightning, his faceoff winning percentage is woeful given the depth on this team at center, meaning he'll likely be moved to the wing. A phenomenal scorer, his recovery from injury could land him on Canada's top line.
It's the first time being selected to the Olympic roster for both 34-year-old Kunitz and 23-year-old Stamkos, but there shouldn't be any jitters. Playing with Crosby will raise just about anyone's game, and this line has pure scoring potential written all over it. Overall, it's a lethal line to dole out against any opponent with a lot of speed, and it should possess the puck well.
2nd-Line Forwards: Nash-Getzlaf-Perry
Rick Nash (LW): 9 G, 9 A, -2, 27 GP
Ryan Getzlaf (C): 20 G, 28 A, +17, 41 GP
Corey Perry (RW): 23 G, 21 A, +17, 44 GP
It feels like these three guys have been around for a lot longer than they have, but Nash is the old man here at just 29 years old. (Getzlaf and Perry are 28). A veteran from the 2010 Vancouver Games, Nash was hampered this season by an early injury, causing him to miss time from October 8 to November 19. Still, with 18 points in 27 games, the 6'4", 213-pound winger is a staple towards the top and will play a physical game. He should get a look on special teams as well and has scored three power-play goals thus far this season.
Thought Nash was a problem? Getzlaf has used all of his 6'4", 221-pound frame to pound opponents this season while putting up points in droves. He's in the top five with 48 thus far, including 20 goals, good for ninth in the league. He's been clutch as well with six game-winning goals (GWG) thus far, and his leadership skills are top-notch in the game right now, rivaled only by Blackhawks' captain Jonathan Toews.
Like Crosby and Kunitz, Getzlaf and Perry have been a lethal combination for opponents this season. Perry is fourth in the league in goals with 23 and likes to shoot the puck; he's done so 160 times already. Thought Getzlaf's GWG number was clutch? He's No. 2 because his linemate leads the league with eight winners, making that combination even scarier late in close games.
I don't know if there will be a better checking line that can also light up the scoresheet in the tournament. These guys are all veterans of the 2010 gold-medal-winning team and could pose major problems if paired together this time around.
3rd-Line Forwards: Tavares-Toews-Sharp
John Tavares (LW): 20 G, 31 A, -1, 43 GP
Jonathan Toews (C): 15 G, 29 A, +21, 45 GP
Patrick Sharp (RW): 25 G, 21 A, +22, 45 GP
The first two guys on this line have similar sounding names and similar styles of play. At 23 years old, Islanders captain John Tavares made the Team Canada roster for the first time and it's easy to see why. His 51 points rank third in the league, with top-10 numbers in both goals (9th) and assists (6th). He doesn't have a lot of help on the Islanders, so those numbers could be much higher if he skated with a pair as deadly as, say, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. His move to the wing—like that of Stamkos—is just a result of the depth at center ahead of him for the time being.
Toews returns from the 2010 squad, where he played a crucial role in capturing the gold and then lead his Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, earning postseason MVP honors on the way. Now a two-time Cup-winner, Toews ranks in the top ten in assists (8th), points (9th) and plus-minus (8th) but his faceoff percentage and leadership skills are nearly unrivaled. He ranks among the best two-way centers in the game along with his Canadian teammate Patrice Bergeron and Team Russia's Pavel Datsyuk.
Patrick Sharp was one of the "bubble players" on the edge for Team Canada but likely made the roster after posting a fantastic month in December. His 25 goals, plus-22 and 176 shots are all second-best in the league in their respective categories, while he is also in the top ten in points (7th) and power-play goals (7, 8th). His familiarity with Toews should again work to Canada's advantage and gives the brass extra incentive to pair them together, as they are both very solid on both sides of the puck.
With three guys who rank among the league's best scorers, this line seems like a no-brainer. All three men are leaders on their respective teams, wearing a letter on their jerseys. While Toews and Sharp have won two Cups together, Tavares hasn't been close yet, but playing on the big stage for the first time shouldn't be a problem. Watch out when these three are on the ice, as they present big problems on the breakout and will be tough to beat off the draw.
4th-Line Forwards: Marleau-Bergeron-Carter
Patrick Marleau (LW): 19 G, 22 A, +9, 43 G
Patrice Bergeron (C): 10 G, 15 A, +17, 42 G
Jeff Carter (RW): 15 G, 11 A, +6, 33 G
Patrick Marleau was another guy who was on the fence with making the roster this go-round, but now that he's on the team again, opponents will need to prepare for another solid two-way winger. Marleau had five points during the 2010 Games and has 41 in 43 games so far this year for the Sharks. Expect him to get time on the man advantage, as his seven power-play goals are among the league's best. His 164 shots are fourth-highest in the league.
Much like Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron ranks as one of the best way forwards in the game, as well as an exceptional faceoff man. His numbers are down overall this season (with just 25 points), but his intangibles and leadership are again some of the best in the game. Superb on the draw, it's easy to see Bergeron anchoring the fourth line and being out on the ice on critical faceoffs in the defensive zone. He should be a staple on the penalty kill.
Jeff Carter is another center who will likely slide over to the wing to optimize his natural scoring ability while augmenting his so-so performance at the dot. Carter has 26 points in 33 games after missing most of November and adds size and grit (at 6'4", 212-pounds) to this fourth line. He's a versatile forward who could get special teams time on either unit.
Like the prior line, these three all wear a letter on their jerseys as natural leaders. Carter is the only first-timer here but, along with Bergeron, he has won a Stanley Cup in the past three years. There's plenty of big-game experience here, and they play solid defensively while being dangerous enough to counterattack quickly, even if their ice time is limited.
Top Defensive Pairing: Duncan Keith and Shea Weber
Duncan Keith: 42 P, +18, 45 GP, 24:26 TOI/G
Shea Weber: 27 P, -13, 40 GP, 26:47 TOI/G
The last time Duncan Keith played for Team Canada in 2010, he helped them to the gold medal before going on to help his Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, grabbing a Norris Trophy for best defenseman along the way. This year's Duncan Keith looks eerily similar; he's been a major asset for the Blackhawks, one of the league's top teams and is the favorite at the halfway point to win the Norris again. Keith's 39 assists are third-best in the league, while his 42 points lead all defensemen. The veteran blueliner is a staple on the top defensive pairing and is currently logging just under 24.5 minutes of ice time per night.
Don't let his minus-13 performance thus far fool you: Shea Weber is a big-time player. Owner of one of the league's fastest shots, Weber's 10 goals are tied for first among NHL defensemen. Averaging close to 27 minutes of ice time per game for the woeful Predators, Weber's no stranger to postseason play, despite the fact that he won't be heading there this season. He was one of the main cogs on Canada's blue line in 2010 and should expect to be again in Sochi.
A lot of people expected Keith to skate with his current defensive partner on the Blackhawks, Brent Seabrook, in Sochi, as they did in the Vancouver 2010 Games. However, Seabrook was one of the biggest snubs this time around, so Keith will skate with Central Division foe Weber for the first time. I don't think the two will have any problems getting along and will certainly log plenty of ice time while hammering away from the point in Sochi.
2nd Defensive Pairing: Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester
Alex Pietrangelo: 28 P, +15, 41 GP, 25:29 TOI/G
Jay Bouwmeester: 27 P, +21, 41 GP, 24:20 TOI/G
Pietrangelo has been one of many reasons that have the St. Louis Blues are playing among the best hockey in the league at the moment. The fourth-overall pick in 2008 has racked up 28 points this season, good for ninth-best among defensemen. His ice time has been reduced slightly in recent games, but at near 25.5 minutes per game, he's out there in crucial situations and should make the adjustment to the big ice easily.
After being held off the 2010 roster, Bouwmeester returns to Team Canada for the 2014 trip. He played alongside Rick Nash and Roberto Luongo on the 2006 team. Along with Keith, Bouwmeester brings a veteran presence to the defensive core at 30 years old and is still averaging over 24 minutes a night of ice time. His plus-21 is eighth-best in the league while his 27 points has him just outside the top 10 for defensemen.
Like with the forward lines, the familiarity here is key and there's no sense in breaking these two up. Second pairing duties should see them receive plenty of ice time, and they should expect to get some looks on the power play while likely being concentrated on the penalty kill.
3rd Defensive Pairing: P.K. Subban and Drew Doughty
P.K. Subban: 33 P, +14, 44 GP, 25:16 TOI/G
Drew Doughty: 23 P, +13, 43 GP, 25:38 TOI/G
Few people play the game as hard defensively as P.K. Subban. The 24-year-old might look small at just 6' tall, but plays like a larger man, throwing all of his 217-pound frame at his opponents. His 33 points are third-best among active defensemen, with seven goals thus far. He shoots a lot for a D-man as well, registering 124 shots to date while averaging over 25 minutes a game of ice time.
Drew Doughty should fit right in with Subban here, as he employs a similar style of play. Also just 24 years old, Doughty was on the 2010 Canadian team and will use that experience, coupled with that from the 2012 Stanley Cup-winning L.A. Kings' run to his advantage. Doughty has six goals and 23 points in 43 games this season and is averaging close to 26 minutes a game for L.A.
This is the first selection for Subban, but I doubt he'll have problems fitting in and should see power-play time. Doughty's experience earns him a spot in the top six and it's doubtful either guy will complain about having his ice time cut a few minutes for the month of international competition. As third-line defensive pairings go, expect this to be one of the tournament's best.
Roberto Luongo: 16-10-6, 2.23 GAA, .922 SV %
Carey Price: 20-11-4, 2.22 GAA, .928 SV %
Mike Smith: 15-10-8, 2.89 GAA, .911 SV %
Roberto Luongo became the go-to guy for Team Canada in 2010 and was good enough to lead them to gold in his hometown arena in Vancouver. This season under a new head coach, his numbers have been OK. Expectations for Bobby Lou have always been high and he's been much maligned over the past few seasons. Luongo's 16 wins are 12th-best in the league this season.
Numbers-wise, Carey Price is having the best season of the three netminders. However, like Mike Smith, this is his first rodeo, and the biggest question will be how he'll perform on the big stage, with a record of 9-17 in his postseason career. Price's 20 wins are fifth-best in the league, while his .928 save percentage ranks third-best.
Mike Smith getting the nod over Marc-Andre Fleury was an odd choice, but he's had moments in the past when he's looked unstoppable. He's also had moments when it looked like any recent call-up could beat him. This season however, Smith has been on form. His 98 goals allowed is the best in the league, especially considering he's faced a league-high 1,100 shots to date. His eight overtime losses are a league high, but four of those have come in the shootout, which won't be around in Sochi.
Goaltender appears to be the weakest link in the defending gold medal winners' armor and there's no obvious choice at the moment. Luongo probably has the starting job at this time, but his hold over it is extremely slim. The starter will likely be determined by how these three play over the next few weeks before the team packs up and heads to Russia.