Despite the Capitals’ lackluster record over the last couple of weeks, Adam Oates’ squad is set to send a number of high-end players to Sochi, Russia for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.
Some, such as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, will be expected to carry the mail for their respective national outfits, while others, such as John Carlson are more than likely to have much more tempered expectations lying before them heading into the tournament.
There have been some snubs, as Marcus Johansson, prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov and Michal Neuvirth all failed to earn spots on their respective national teams, but nonetheless, the Caps will be well represented in Russia.
In what is sure to be among the most star-studded hockey tournaments in recent memory (as well as conceivably the last Olympic competition featuring the sport’s best for a while), the stakes will be at an all-time high for the Capitals headed across the Atlantic Ocean in February.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what sort of role each selected Washington Capital will be counted on to fill later this winter in Sochi.
Simply put, Ovechkin has the hopes of the entire host country on his shoulders heading into the Games, because as the reigning NHL MVP, the Capitals captain is firmly established as one of hockey’s most dominant players.
And though his 2010 performance was less than impressive, as Russia flamed out to Canada in the quarters in Vancouver, Ovechkin has been solid during his pair of Olympic tournaments, registering seven goals and two assists in 11 total games.
In fact, Ovechkin was named to the 2006 All-Tournament Team, despite finishing without a medal, and in the process, scored a tournament-leading five goals, highlighted by the winning goal against Canada in their quarterfinal clash.
Now, with Ovechkin once again leading the league in goals by a considerable margin, he’s expected to be Russia’s go-to scorer, and with either Evgeni Malkin or Pavel Datsyuk feeding him the puck, he shouldn’t have too much trouble filling the net.
In total, Ovechkin’s piled up an astounding 35 goals and 56 points in 70 games with the Russia at the senior level, so anything less than 3 goals and 6 points would be something of a disappointment for the three-time Hart Trophy recipient.
Projected Role: No. 1 scoring threat.
The Swedish national team is a group that’s in transition, as longtime stalwarts Nicklas Lidstrom and Peter Forsberg are retired, while All-Star winger Daniel Alfredsson and power forward Johan Franzen appear to be gearing up for their final Olympic appearances.
In addition, while still certainly elite players, Henrik Zetterberg, as well as twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin are all well over 30, and it’s nearly time for the next generation of Swedish offensive standouts to take the reigns.
As such, there will be greater expectations placed upon Nicklas Backstrom at the 2014 Games. A former 100-point man, Backstrom’s arguably the sport’s premier European playmaker, and has played a big role in the resurgence of Ovechkin’s career.
In Russia, Backstrom won’t have a triggerman with the same quick-strike abilities of his running mate in D.C., but if Alex Steen (who was the only sniper capable of keeping up with Ovechkin this season until suffering a concussion) is healthy, he’ll have the tools to rack up the assists.
Due to the historical brilliance of Zetterberg and the Sedins, Backstrom isn’t likely to be a first-liner, but if this team’s going to make noise, he’ll have to be just as good as he was four years ago, when he recorded a very impressive goal and five assists in four games.
Backstrom’s been productive for Sweden whenever the national team’s called upon him in the past, and in Sochi, he’ll have to continue that trend in order for him to return home with a medal.
Projected Role: No. 2 center.
Given how much his play has improved over the last 24 months, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that former NHL All-Rookie Team selection John Carlson was named to the U.S. Olympic squad.
But after David Poile passed over three of the league’s best in Jack Johnson, Keith Yandle and Erik Johnson, the pressure on Carlson to fill a top-six role only heightened, so the big, mobile rearguard will have to be at his best for the Americans.
He’s got the offensive tools to be an impact guy on the Americans’ second power play grouping, but he’ll have to be more conservative in the defensive zone in Sochi, especially when facing the vaunted Russian attack during the group stage of the tournament.
At this point, it’s unclear whether Carlson will be one of the top dogs on the American blue line, but unless something very unexpected transpires, the one-time World Junior Championship hero will be counted on to play a top-six role for Dan Bylsma’s club.
Projected Role: No. 6 on the blue line, possible power play quarterback.