Slumping Hockey Players In Need of a Wake-Up Call for 2014 Winter Olympics

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2014

Slumping Hockey Players In Need of a Wake-Up Call for 2014 Winter Olympics

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Being selected to represent one's country at the Olympics is among the highest honors for a hockey player, especially those who play in the NHL. They represent the very best players their respective countries have produced. A number of factors went into the selection for their respective Olympic teams. Among them was their performance leading up to, and including, this NHL season. 

    The recent performances of several NHL players heading to Sochi is raising concerns about their effectiveness when they join their respective Olympic teams. Three notable goaltenders are battling inconsistency. Several forwards known for their offensive skills are struggling to score. For others, age or lack of confidence have adversely affected their play. 

    Here's a look at 10 slumping players in need of a wake-up call if they're to be effective for their respective teams at the Sochi Olympics.

Dustin Brown

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    In a January 2014 interview with Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com, Brown acknowledged he's struggled in all aspects of his game.

    Usually a reliable 20-goal, 50-point player, the Los Angeles Kings' captain has only 16 points in 55 NHL games. Brown managed only three points in 15 games throughout January. He's on pace for 24 points, his lowest since his 28-point sophomore NHL campaign in 2005-06.

    The 29-year-old winger was selected to Team USA for his leadership, versatility and two-way skills. The American squad will need more from Brown at Sochi than what he's delivered this season for the Kings.

Michael Grabner

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Among the few Austrian-born NHL players, Grabner is renowned for his speed but is also a streaky scorer. In his previous four NHL seasons he scored over 20 goals twice, including a 34-goal season in 2010-11.

    With nine goals and 20 points in 53 games this season Grabner is nowhere near his career-best totals. Earlier this season the 26-year-old winger endured a 31-game goalless drought. He posted better numbers in January, with eight points in 16 games.

    Grabner must find the back of the net with more consistency if he's to be an effective scoring winger for the Austrians at the Sochi Games.

Andrej Meszaros

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Playing for his native Slovakia at the upcoming Winter Olympics will be the high point in an otherwise miserable season for Meszaros with the Philadelphia Flyers.

    The 28-year-old defenseman was a healthy scratch 23 times, most recently in the Flyers' final three games in January. The Camden Courier-Post's Dave Isaac reports Meszaros admitted his frequent benchings were tough on his confidence and his game.

    The last thing the Slovaks need heading into the Olympics is one of their better puck-moving defensemen struggling through a crisis of confidence. Perhaps playing with his countrymen in Sochi will boost Meszaros' morale and performance.

Milan Michalek

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    Mike Munden/Associated Press

    Though hampered by injuries throughout his NHL career, Michalek exceeded 22 goals and 55 points four times when playing more than 77 games in a season.

    While healthy this season, the 29-year-old Ottawa Senators winger has managed only seven goals and 22 points in 54 games. Throughout January he tallied only one goal and four points in 12 games.

    Following his selection to the Czech Republic team, Michalek told the Ottawa Sun's Don Brennan his international tournament experience worked in his favor. He'll need more than that to be an effective scoring forward for the Czechs at the Olympics.

Ondrej Pavelec

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Pavelec has struggled with consistency throughout his NHL career. His numbers this season with the Winnipeg Jets (17-21-4 in 43 games, 2.99 goals-against, .900 save percentage) indicates he still has room for improvement.

    Earlier in his career Pavelec carried the Czech Republic to a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships, with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.

    The 26-year-old could be the Czechs' starting goalie in Sochi. He must regain the level of performance he displayed at the 2011 Worlds if they're to have a shot at an Olympic medal.

Carey Price

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    STEVE NESIUS/Associated Press

    Price's strong performance earlier this season prompted CBC.ca's Mike Brophy to claim the 26-year-old was making the case to be Canada's starting goaltender. Throughout January, however, Price won only five of 11 games, giving up four or more goals in seven of them. Jonathan Willis noted Price had a 3-5-0 record with a .866 save percentage in his last eight games.

    The Canadiens' sloppy defensive play was partly to blame for his poor numbers. Still, Willis believes Price has already lost the starter's job to Vancouver's Roberto Luongo.

    Price must regain his earlier form if he hopes to become more than a backup for Team Canada.

Tuomo Ruutu

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Though the oft-injured Ruutu has only missed five games this season, the 30-year-old Carolina Hurricanes' winger has only 14 points in 48 games. He managed only one goal and five points in 14 games throughout January.

    The Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander reports Ruutu's ice time was recently reduced. He also spent several games on the Hurricanes' fourth line.

    Ruutu's physical two-way play and international experience got him selected to Finland's Men's Olympic hockey team. He must elevate his play if he's to be a significant contributor to the Finnish roster.

Daniel Sedin

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Vancouver Province's Ben Kuzma noted Sedin's been a shadow of himself in recent games. That could be attributed to twin brother Henrik's recent rib injury, but Daniel's scoring drought stretches beyond that point.

    Sedin has 40 points this season but managed to tally only five through 15 games in January. He is on pace for 59 points, which will be his lowest over a full NHL season since 2003-04.

    Sweden is considered among the favorites to win gold in men's ice hockey. The Sedins are expected to be a key part of their offense. Daniel must perform better than he did throughout January with the Canucks.

Alexander Semin

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Initially passed over for Russia's Olympic team, Semin made the club as an injury replacement. Despite his offensive skills he's faced criticism over his consistency.

    After 34 games this season Semin had only six goals, though he also missed 12 games to concussion. Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander reports Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford recently expressed displeasure with the 29-year-old winger's performance. He responded with 10 points in his last eight games in January.

    Semin must work harder if he's to silence his critics and help Russia win gold on home ice at Sochi.

Mike Smith

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    As Canada's No. 3 goalie behind Roberto Luongo and Carey Price, Smith is unlikely to see any playing time in Sochi. If he is pressed into service it could be cause for concern for Canadian fans.

    Smith's performance has noticeably declined since he carried the Phoenix Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final. Following a strong start to this season, his numbers have deteriorated. By the end of January his goals-against average was a bloated 2.91.

    NHL.com's Jerry Brown reports Smith hopes to use his selection to Team Canada as motivation to improve his play. So far that doesn't seem to be working.