Canadian Olympic Hockey Team 2014: Biggest X-Factors to Watch in Sochi

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Canadian Olympic Hockey Team 2014: Biggest X-Factors to Watch in Sochi
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When Team Canada won gold in men's ice hockey at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, it took a total team effort in order to do so. That will once again be true in Sochi, and even though guys like Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, Jonathan Toews and a host of others will have to step up, there are plenty of less obvious contributors as well.

It isn't possible for teams to succeed in the Olympic tournament without rolling four lines and getting everyone involved in the mix. Canada arguably has more depth than any other team in the field, so that shouldn't be an issue. With so many hungry players looking to prove themselves, there could be some surprising showings for Team Canada in Sochi.

Here are the three biggest Team Canada X-factors to watch at the 2014 Olympics as the birthplace of hockey seeks consecutive Olympic golds for the first time since 1948 and 1952.

 

P.K. Subban

Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban is unquestionably one of the most explosive offensive rearguards in the NHL, and with Olympic hockey taking place on a larger sheet of ice, he could do some special things in Sochi.

Subban is tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen this season with 36 points, but there are concerns surrounding his all-around game. Subban isn't always the most defensively responsible blueliner, which means that Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock might hesitate when it comes to putting him on the ice in big situations.

Even if Subban serves as a seventh or eighth defenseman, he can still have a major impact on the tournament.

Subban is excellent with the man advantage, as evidenced by his 16 power-play points. He excels at bringing the puck up the ice and gaining the zone, and he also has a booming shot from the point. He will be a huge asset in that regard, however, his even-strength play has really slipped recently, John Shannon of Sportsnet reports: 

With that in mind, Subban is going to be an X-factor in one way or another. He will either impact the team positively with his attacking mentality, or he will put Team Canada in precarious positions with overaggressive play.

Subban is a wild card for the Habs on a nightly basis, and there is no reason to think that will change when he dons the red and white of Team Canada.

 

Martin St. Louis

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He wasn't initially tabbed to be part of Team Canada, but Tampa Bay Lightning winger Martin St. Louis could prove to be a key contributor to a gold medal effort in Sochi. According to Hockey Canada, the 38-year-old St. Louis was chosen to replace injured Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos:

Stamkos is one of the top goal scorers in the world, and he was expected to be a huge part of Canada's forward corps along with Crosby, Toews and John Tavares up front. Stamkos hadn't played since November after breaking his tibia, though, and he was ultimately unable to heal in time for the Olympics. Not surprisingly, having to pull out of the Winter Games came as a huge disappointment to Stamkos, per NHL.com.

Today is obviously very disappointing for me. I honestly believe that we did everything possible in order to have my injured leg ready in time for the Olympics, but I realize you can't force healing. I know, in the best interest of my long term health, I cannot represent Canada in Sochi, as much as I would like to. I would like to thank the training staff for their dedication and hard work and I look forward to returning to the Lightning once cleared by the medical team.

As difficult of a loss as that was, St. Louis is no pushover. He represented Canada at the 2006 Torino Games, he is a former Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, he is a Stanley Cup winner and he won the Art Ross Trophy last season as the NHL's leading scorer.

Despite his diminutive size at 5'8", St. Louis is a dominant offensive player. It's impossible not to marvel at what he has accomplished in the tight-checking NHL. The play is far more wide open in the Olympics, and the extra space on the larger sheet of ice will make St. Louis even more dynamic than he already is.

Stamkos may be slightly better than St. Louis overall, but St. Louis could prove to be a better fit for Team Canada. The Canadian squad is stacked with centers and light on wingers, so St. Louis fills a need. Regardless of where head coach Mike Babcock decides to put St. Louis, he should be productive, and he could prove to be one of Canada's best players.

 

Roberto Luongo

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Despite the fact that Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo's numbers are better than the other two goalies on Team Canada's roster, the assumption seems to be that he will backup Montreal Canadiens backstop Carey Price in Sochi.

Price had been dominant until recently, but his play has dropped off significantly. Perhaps that has given Luongo some hope, especially after Babcock's recent comments regarding the goaltending situation, according to Ed Willes of The Province.

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"Lou's a real good goalie, and we've had a lot of success with him in Canada," Babcock said. "In the end, whoever gives us the best chance to win is going to play."

It seems likely that Price will start the tournament as the No. 1 guy, but Luongo will get a chance to start at least one of the group games. If he plays well, then he could earn another start, particularly if Price struggles. Luongo does have experience on his side having led Canada to the gold medal in 2010, so Babcock might come to trust him more than Price.

Even though Luongo looks like little more than a supporting player ahead of the Olympics, he could turn out to be the biggest key to Canada's success. Goaltending is the one aspect of Team Canada that looks a bit shaky right now, but Luongo may ultimately change that moving forward.

 

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