There was a time when the starting goaltender for Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Olympics was an open-and-shut case. It would be Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, as he showed in recent seasons that he was far and away the cream of the crop for the stars and stripes.
Quick won a Stanley Cup in 2012 by transforming himself into a brick wall with unparalleled lateral speed. After a mediocre regular season in 2013, he again was nearly unbeatable, as he carried the Kings to the conference finals. In two consecutive pressure-packed postseasons, he rose to the occasion and left little doubt he could do the same at the Olympics.
Then, the 2013-14 season began. Quick was once again subpar in the regular season and dealt with a serious groin injury in December. It opened the door, strangely enough, for a recent Team USA hero on the worst team in the NHL to thrust himself into the conversation.
Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres was the tournament MVP at the 2010 Olympics, as he guided Team USA to within a goal of gold before Sidney Crosby and Canada bested him in overtime of the final game. Miller's game fell off over the next few seasons to the point where he wasn't really a contender to start when Team USA's orientation camp took place this past summer.
But now, with the Olympics less than two weeks away, there's no clear-cut favorite for the Team USA starting goaltender job. Coach Dan Bylsma will likely let both Miller and Quick get a start during the round-robin games, but who is truly deserving of being the go-to guy in net in Sochi?
Here's a breakdown of Miller and Quick and what they'll bring to the table when they suit up in Sochi.
Ryan Miller: He's 33 years old and has been an NHL starter since 2005-06. He's only been to the postseason four times but has reached the conference finals twice—in 2006 and 2007. He hasn't advanced beyond the first round of the postseason since 2007 and has 47 career playoff games to his credit. In 2010, he went 5-1 for Team USA at the Olympics with a .939 save percentage.
Jonathan Quick: Despite becoming a regular starter in 2008-09, the 28-year-old has played in three more career postseason games than Miller largely due to the fact he's been on far better teams in recent seasons. Thirty-eight of Quick's 50 playoff games have occurred in the past two years, and he has a .940 save percentage over that time. He has never participated in an international tournament.
Advantage: Ever so slightly, it goes to Miller. It may not have a big influence on Bylsma's thought process, but Miller's Olympic experience gives him a small edge in this category.
Who's Hotter Now?
Ryan Miller: Miller has been healthier and better than Quick throughout this season, but who is playing better hockey as Sochi approaches? Since January, Miller is 4-4-2 with a 2.65/.918 split. In his five most recent games, he has allowed 15 goals on 160 shots for a .906 save percentage. Those numbers took a beating largely thanks to giving up five goals on 27 shots Saturday in Colorado.
Jonathan Quick: Quick returned from his groin injury on Jan. 4 and has been pretty impressive. He is 5-7-2 since getting back in the lineup, but that has a lot to do with the Kings being inept offensively. He has a 1.87/.922 split over that time. But in his past five games, he has allowed 10 goals on 92 shots for an .891 save percentage.
Advantage: Both goaltenders have been yanked from recent starts, and neither has lit it up over the past two weeks. Again, it's close, but Quick has the better body of work since 2014 began.
Who's Best vs. The Best?
Ryan Miller: There are six NHL teams averaging three goals per game or more—Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Boston and Colorado. The top Olympic teams are loaded with gifted scorers, so how has Miller done against the league's best? In eight matchups against those teams, he is 1-7-0 with a 4.11/.885 split. Some of that has to do with the team in front of him, which is an assortment of traffic cones and fire hydrants. Team USA's worst defenseman would be the No. 1 guy in Buffalo.
Jonathan Quick: Despite most of the top offensive clubs existing in the West, Quick has only faced those teams six times because of his month-long groin issue. But he hasn't been great, either, going 2-4-0 against those high-scoring clubs with an 2.44/.894 split.
Advantage: Those numbers aren't exactly the type you put on your goaltending resume, but Quick has been slightly better than Miller with all things considered.
Who Deserves the Nod?
There may not be two more difficult goaltenders to compare in the NHL. One plays for an absolute bottom feeder, a train wreck from top to bottom that can't score goals or prevent great scoring chances. One plays for a team that can't score but is excellent at limiting chances. Bylsma could flip a coin to make the decision and couldn't be blamed.
But Quick deserves to get the first crack at the starting job in Sochi. When in doubt, go with the guy who was your first instinct for the No. 1 slot.
In round-robin play, the U.S. team faces Slovakia, Russia and Slovenia—in order. If Quick struggles in the first two games and confidence is lost, Bylsma can use Slovenia for a tune-up game before the elimination games begin.
Quick or Miller? Miller or Quick? It's a difficult decision but one a lot of countries wish they had to make.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
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