On Jan. 7, Alex Ovechkin (Russia) and Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) joined John Carlson (USA) as Capitals who received the honor of representing their respective countries at the Olympics, according to CSNWashington.com.
What do each of these players have to do in Sochi for their performance to be considered a success?
To answer that question, here are pass-fail marks for each of the Olympic-bound Washington Capitals in Sochi. The pass-fail marks include offensive statistics, plus/minus rating and penalty minutes, along with the acceptable result for each player's respective national team.
Note: All statistics updated through Jan. 12 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
Yes, Ovechkin is expected to skate on the top line, according to Vassili Ossipov of NHL.com, just as he does in Washington. And he will definitely appear on the Russian power play.
But with Washington this season, Ovechkin has been a part of 91.6 percent of the Capitals' power-play line combinations, according to LeftWingLock.com. Ovechkin will not receive that same percentage of ice time while on the man advantage for Team Russia. Not when sharing the ice with fellow snipers Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov.
When discussing other aspects of the game, Ovechkin can be a liability. He is dead last on the Caps in plus/minus rating and is tied for first among Capitals forwards in minor penalties. Limiting the damage in these two important categories will be viewed as a success for Ovechkin.
From the team perspective, expectations are high for Ovechkin and Team Russia. Nothing less than gold will be acceptable for the hosts.
Nicklas Backstrom will most likely not skate on the first line for Team Sweden. Or the second line, for that matter. Such is the fate of the man who ranks fourth in the NHL in assists, but third on Sweden's depth chart at center behind Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg, according to Brian Compton of NHL.com.
As a result, Backstrom will receive significantly less ice time than he is used to, and will therefore create less offense. Backstrom should appear on the power play for Sweden, but most likely on the second unit, despite leading the NHL in power-play assists.
The potential lack of ice time may help Backstrom in two specific areas: plus/minus rating and penalty minutes. For the season, Backstrom has a plus/minus rating of minus-five and has accrued 13 minor penalties. Expectations for Backstrom will be low in both of these categories.
Backstrom's national team, on the other hand, has high expectations for the 2014 Winter Olympics. On Jan. 9, Kevin Allen of USA Today wrote that "the Swedes are the reigning world champion and they are a contender to win the gold in Sochi."
Despite these high expectations and keeping in mind that no team should ever be satisfied with second place, a silver medal in Sochi would still be an honorable fate for a team that finished eighth at Vancouver in 2010, according to ESPN.com.
As with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the power play is a major source of both ice time and offensive production for John Carlson. The Massachusetts native is second among Capitals defenders in power-play time on ice per game and leads the group in power-play goals.
But on the United States Olympic team, Carlson will be one of several power-play specialists on the blue line. The following table ranks the eight American defenders in terms of power-play time on ice per game for the 2013-14 NHL season, along with their goals, assists and points on the power play:
|PLAYER||TEAM||PP TOI/G||PP G||PP A||PP P|
Although Carlson may not receive the bulk of the ice time on USA's man advantage, he is still expected to play on the team's second defensive pairing, according to Chris Peters of CBSSports.com. That's pretty impressive considering Carlson is the third-youngest member of Team USA, having just celebrated his 24th birthday. Carlson and his teammates should also expect to celebrate on the medal podium in Sochi.
Of course, the more discipline Carlson plays with, the more likely the Americans are to medal. So far this season, Carlson has a plus/minus rating of minus-two and has been whistled for only six minor penalties. If Carlson does his job, he will end the Olympics with a plus rating.
Near-perfection will be expected of a top-four defenseman such as Carlson when it comes to penalty minutes during a short tournament. Especially when that top-four defenseman happens to lead the entire NHL in short-handed time on ice per game and is therefore expected to be an integral part of the American penalty kill.