The Biggest Concern for Each Detroit Red Wing Headed to Sochi
The Detroit Red Wings are sending 10 players to the Sochi Winter Olympics in less than a month.
Olympic hockey is a source of great pride and excitement among players who get to play, but for those fans or management that are only able to watch, there is some cause for concern.
These concerns stem from a variety of areas, but most are justified in one way or another.
Here are the biggest concerns for all 10 Red Wings going to the Olympics.
Biggest concern, in this sense, refers to the concern that could very reasonably affect each Red Wing Olympian either during or after the Games are done.
Pavel Datsyuk: Potential Injuries Due to Minutes Played
Pavel Datsyuk is no spring chicken. But the 35-year-old Russian center could be leaned on to log heavy minutes on the top line in the Olympics.
Datsyuk hasn't played much of late due to a groin injury, and he missed several games before that injury due to a high hit from Jared Cowen of the Ottawa Senators.
Although Red Wings fans should be hoping that Datsyuk gets enough playing time at the Olympics to get back in game shape for the remainder of the regular season, there is, however, a fine line that needs to be toed by Datsyuk.
If he is leaned on too heavily during the Olympics, the aging superstar could run out of gas down the stretch with Detroit.
Tomas Tatar: Emotional High/Low from Olympics
Tomas Tatar has been through a lot this season, already. Tatar lost his father earlier this month, and no words can describe how that feels like.
But the young Slovakian forward is an Olympian at the age of 23, and he carries the weight of his country's Olympic hopes on his shoulders. That can be a bit of a challenge for someone that young, especially being a first-time Olympian.
The challenge for Tatar will be to isolate the Olympics as a separate phase of the season. If he can compartmentalize this experience and remain hungry when he returns to Detroit, it will be key to him continuing to develop as a player.
Tomas Jurco: Forgetting That He Isn't Expected to Be "The Guy"
Tomas Jurco is an extremely talented hockey player. The 21-year-old Jurco will be an Olympian along with his countryman Tatar, representing Slovakia as one of just seven NHL forwards on the Slovakian roster.
But despite Jurco's status as an NHL forward, he doesn't have to be "the guy" for Team Slovakia.
Jurco might end up playing a big role for his team, but he is just 21 years old and must have the ability to mentally and physically take a backseat to NHL superstars Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa.
That said, Jurco must rise to the challenge and find a way to contribute, but he needs to keep his cool and find a way to just go out there and enjoy his first Olympic experience.
Daniel Alfredsson: Potential Injuries Due to Minutes Played
Daniel Alfredsson will represent Sweden one final time at the Olympics. The 41-year-old has played in the past four Olympics, with one gold medal for his efforts.
His challenge will be to finally get healthy and stay healthy for his return to Detroit. He has 30 points in 38 games, but that is the problem—he has missed 11 games this season.
If Alfredsson gets injured at the Olympics and misses another significant portion of time for Detroit, it could spell the end of the Red Wings' playoff hopes, as they have been struggling without some top offensive players.
Johan Franzen: Avoiding Hits to the Head
Johan Franzen has not played for the Detroit Red Wings since December 15. Franzen took a hit to the head during the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and hasn't yet played in 2014.
Franzen is depended upon heavily by Detroit's offense and has put up 22 points in 30 games this season. Unfortunately for Detroit, Franzen's 22 points came in 14 games, and he hasn't scored in the other 16 contests.
If Franzen can minimize contact to his head during the Olympics, he can use the Olympics as a conditioning stint and hopefully be ready to return to action for Detroit upon his return from Sochi.
Like Alfredsson, the Red Wings' playoff hopes could depend on Franzen protecting his noggin for the duration of the Olympics.
Henrik Zetterberg: Finding How to Be "The Guy" Without Compromising His Back
Henrik Zetterberg is a proud hockey player, but he will also be a marked man when other teams take on Sweden in the Olympics.
As Sweden's captain at Sochi, Zetterberg will need to figure out how to help his country go as far as it can with his talents, but at the same time, avoid contact to his back.
Similarly to Johan Franzen, Zetterberg's back has been a point of issue that caused him to miss almost the entire month of December after injuring it on December 1 against the Senators.
As the captain of the Detroit Red Wings, first and foremost, Zetterberg needs to make sure that he can continue to play for Detroit after the Olympics and not sit out by re-aggravating his back injury again.
Sweden is expecting a lot out of Zetterberg. That much is obvious.
How much this playing time will affect his back is still up for debate.
Jonathan Ericsson: How Will He Handle the Bigger Ice
Jonathan Ericsson has finally come into his own as the defenseman that the Red Wings management always envisioned him as.
A physical, reliable defenseman that can clear the front of the net when necessary.
Although Ericsson has become increasingly more reliable and physical with opponents over the past two seasons, he will still never have the same speed as his defense partner Niklas Kronwall.
The concern with Ericsson going to the Olympics isn't as much related to his time with the Red Wings after the Olympics, but more to do with how he will adjust on the wider ice.
Ericsson played on the wide ice growing up in Sweden, but he hasn't exactly excelled with his speed on the North American skinnier ice.
For Team Sweden, Ericsson needs to find a way to shorten distances to pucks, close on other puck-carriers and pick up his feet on the wider Olympic ice surface.
Niklas Kronwall: How He Handles Playing with Regular Defensemen After Olympics
Truth be told, there's no real No. 2 defenseman on the Detroit Red Wings. Jonathan Ericsson fills the role well enough, but Niklas Kronwall is all alone in terms of offensive contributions from the blue line.
Then comes Sochi, where Kronwall can actually play with offensively competent defensemen like Eric Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Alex Edler.
But how will Kronwall rebound post-Olympics?
Since the Winter Classic, Kronwall has just one point in eight games. How Kronwall will rebound will determine how well the Red Wings do after the Olympics as Kronwall is a key part of the struggling power play and plays a significant amount of five-on-five time as well.
Jonas Gustavsson: Will He Get Enough Playing Time to Avoid Further Rust?
Jonas Gustavsson hasn't played in the Red Wings' net since December 28.
Although he won his last three decisions and has a sparkling 11-3-2 record overall, "The Monster" has just nine possible games before an 18-day Olympic break.
Detroit can't seem to buy more than a few games in a row with the same goaltender, so getting the rust off Gustavsson will be key to keep his record in tact, should he be needed after the Olympics.
Jimmy Howard: Will He Be Healthy Throughout and Following Olympics?
Jimmy Howard has won 35 games or more in the last three full seasons for the Detroit Red Wings. Winning was the norm for Howard, who had 131 wins in 234 contests coming into this season.
But wins have hard to come by for the 29-year-old netminder.
Despite being named to Team USA, Howard has struggled not only to stay healthy this season, but also with winning games when he has played. With a 9-12-8 record, Howard would have to play absolutely out of his mind to come close to his 35-win seasons of old.
Now out with the aforementioned knee injury once again, the question for Detroit is simple.
Will Howard be injury-free following the Olympics? And if so, can he get any help from his offense to pick up some valuable wins for Detroit?
All statistics via NHL.com.
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