The Biggest Concern for Each Montreal Canadien Headed to Sochi
The Montreal Canadiens will be well represented in Sochi 2014 with eight players competing for gold.
It is an honor for each to be named to his country's squad and will be something they cherish for the rest of their lives.
However, it is a long flight to Sochi, and instead of resting, these players will be competing at the highest level for 11 days.
Here is the biggest concern for each Montreal Canadien headed to Sochi.
Carey Price: Will He Be Given the Chance to Start?
Carey Price is at the top of his game.
You could argue he's the hottest goalie in the world right now. P.K. Subban backs that up.
You can't argue he's the best Canadian goalie as Sochi approaches.
No matter how well he's playing, however, there is a serious chance that Price will not be given a fair chance to start for Canada in Sochi.
Roberto Luongo is back on the ice and, because he is the incumbent, will likely be given the starting nod for Canada's first game against Norway. Price will then be in goal a day later as Canada faces Austria.
There's a high probability that neither goalie will be tested and Canada will easily defeat its first two opponents. The first real test will come against Finland on February 16.
Because of his experience at the Olympics, Babcock will probably go with Luongo. Assuming Canada is to beat Finland, Luongo would likely be the choice through the single-elimination playoffs.
And so the biggest concern for Price is based on opportunity. There's a good chance he gets just the one start for Canada in Sochi.
P.K. Subban: Can He Handle Being a Situational Player?
P.K. Subban is Montreal's workhorse defenseman. He averages more than 25 minutes a night on the season and has been seeing around 27 minutes a game over the past month.
A lot of ice time does not affect his game, and he would love to log heavy minutes for Team Canada in Sochi. Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen.
Canada's right-side defense is extremely deep, and it is widely expected that Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Weber will be in the top-six.
So where does Subban fit in? Well, unless Mike Babcock shifts one of his right defenders to the left side (which is highly unlikely), it seems he will be dressed as Canada's seventh defenseman.
If this is the case, Subban won't receive a regular shift to begin games and will only see ice time based on situations. As the most offensively gifted defender on the team, he will be asked to contribute on the power play and when Canada is in need of a goal.
It will be difficult for Subban to adjust. He's used to getting on the ice every second shift in Montreal, but for Canada, he probably won't even reach 10 minutes of ice per game. Yet he'll still be expected to make things happen offensively.
Watching from the bench for most of a game isn't the norm for Subban. He'll have to accept his role as situational player and make the most of limited ice time if he hopes to contribute to Team Canada in Sochi.
Max Pacioretty: Can He Produce from the 4th Line?
Max Pacioretty faces the same problem as many club stars who get to suit up for their countries: Will he be able to be a productive player with limited ice time?
Team USA has Zach Parise as its first-line left winger. Dustin Brown will be on the left side of the checking line. This leaves James Van Riemsdyk and Max Pacioretty for second-line left winger honors.
Unfortunately for Pacioretty, Phil Kessel will also be involved in the top-six, meaning JVR will likely get first crack at second-line duty. Pacioretty will start on the fourth line and hope to impress in the few shifts he is given.
Will he be able to score without the guaranteed offensive-zone faceoffs or the top power-play unit minutes? It's a question Team USA management officials likely asked themselves in the selection process. It could even be part of the reason why they chose Pacioretty over Bobby Ryan.
This is a situation that faces all of the top teams in Sochi. Some rosters are loaded with talent. But not everyone can be a top-line scorer.
Ultimately, the teams that can successfully get some of their stars to excel in situational roles will likely be the teams winning games.
Alexei Emelin: Will He Lose Even More Confidence?
A year after a dream season for Alexei Emelin, 2013-14 has been a nightmare.
Through 28 games, the Russian defender has fallen to a team-worst minus-11 rating. He has just six assists and seems to get beat for a goal each and every game.
Emelin plays a physical and aggressive game. He needs confidence to match his style of play, but at the moment, his confidence on the ice is lacking.
Team Russia has a relatively weak defense corps, so regardless of his play this season, Emelin will be counting on to play well at the back end.
But can Emelin regain his confidence by playing on a bigger ice surface against better forwards? It doesn't seem likely.
Perhaps wearing his country's sweater on home soil at the Olympics will give Emelin the spark he so badly needs to turn his game around this season. But there's also the chance that his flaws get exposed even more at the Olympics and his confidence gets shattered even more.
Andrei Markov: Will He Get Injured?
Having played in 107 consecutive games, Andrei Markov is the Canadiens' current iron man. Yet for the remainder of his career, there will always be a feeling around the 35-year-old that he could suffer a devastating injury on the very next shift.
And this feeling is completely justified. After all, Markov underwent three surgeries on his right knee and missed 181 regular-season games between 2010-2013.
He did make it through last year's lockout-shortened season, and Montreal's quick playoff exit, unscathed. This season is a far tougher test, however.
Markov is leading the Canadiens in average ice time per night with 25:25. He'll have played in 59 games before heading to Sochi, where Russia will be leaning on Markov as its top defenseman. He'll then be expected to return to Montreal, battle for a playoff spot over the final 23 games and then lead the Canadiens into the playoffs.
That's a lot of hockey for a 35-year-old, reconstructed knee.
Outside of Markov and Subban, Montreal's defense is weak. It cannot afford to lose either to injury. Markov's right knee is in for a big test over the next few months. Montreal fans are praying it passes.
Tomas Plekanec: Will He Get Tired?
Tomas Plekanec is asked to go out every night and shut down the opponent's top line. He's also the Canadiens' best penalty-killer and gets some time with the man advantage as well.
All this adds up to him leading Montreal forwards in ice time per game at 19:28. Chasing around the league's best players for almost 20 minutes a night isn't an easy thing to do. It wears on you.
And now the captain of Team Czech Republic gets to travel all the way to Russia to do the same thing for his native country. There will be no break for Plekanec.
The 31-year-old is having a great season. He is tied for second among forwards with 30 points. Lately, it seems he is the only forward on the team who has any idea how to play in his own end.
Plekanec is Montreal's most important forward. They need him at the top of his game for the stretch run and the playoffs. Canadiens fans are hoping the extended schedule doesn't wear him out.
Raphael Diaz: Are His Days in Montreal Numbered?
Montreal has had issues with its third defensive pairing all season. Raphael Diaz, Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon are all having terrible seasons. Any combination of the three has failed.
Yet this has been a problem that has been basically overlooked by the coaching staff and management. Diaz, Murray, Bouillon and their combined minus-23 rating have been rolled out each night regardless of result.
Recently, there has been a feeling that change is coming, however.
First, there were the rumors, like this one by Randy Miller of NJ.com, that Daniel Briere would be traded for a defenseman (namely Anton Volchenkov of the New Jersey Devils). Rumors are, of course, only that, but Montreal is likely looking to add a defender by the trade deadline.
Second, top prospect Nathan Beaulieu is back with big club. He is a puck-moving defenseman who will make mistakes in his own zone. But he will also provide extra offense from the back end, something Montreal desperately needs.
Given the mistakes that are currently being made by Montreal defensemen not named Markov and Subban, the Canadiens seem better off by rolling the dice with Beaulieu. He offers far more upside than any of the bottom three currently in the lineup.
So if Beaulieu stays, it's likely that Diaz goes. There simply isn't room in the lineup for someone who is a similar player.
A trade could be coming for Raphael Diaz. He might not even be a Montreal Canadien by the time the Sochi Games come around.
Peter Budaj: Will He Even Start a Game?
There is little doubt that Jaroslav Halak will be Team Slovakia's starter in Sochi. But will backup Peter Budaj even get a start?
From looking at their schedule, it is doubtful.
Slovakia opens the tournament against the United States and then plays Slovenia and Russia in the round robin.
The Slovaks will be heavy underdogs against both the Americans and the Russians. Only a spectacular game by Halak, one reminiscent of his 2010 Olympics heroics, will give Slovakia a chance.
Having to play both the Americans and Russians means that Slovakia's game against Slovenia is a must-win for the team, unless it wants to risk finishing 11th or 12th overall. Therefore, the Slovaks will probably go with Halak for all three round-robin games.
Next up will be the single-elimination round, which, you guessed it, means Halak will be in goal again.
Budaj is comfortable being the backup. He's used to it playing behind Carey Price. But it's a long trip to Sochi, and it'd be nice to see Budaj get a little playing time for his country. There's a good chance that won't happen, though.
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