2014 Winter Olympics: Biggest Strength for Each of Sochi's Top 5 Hockey Teams
We are just days away from the opening ceremony in Sochi, and shortly after the first puck will drop to begin Olympic ice hockey action.
Though there are 16 countries being represented in the 2014 games, the top five teams that have the best shot to take home the gold are without a doubt Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland and the host country, Russia.
Here is the most important strength for each of Sochi's five best teams. Enjoy.
Canada: Depth with Elite Offense
There is no doubt that Canada exports the world's most pure hockey talent and, with that, Canada will always be the team to beat come Olympic time.
This season, Canada's staff went in a different direction than building their usual all-star team and sought team chemistry more than anything — leaving off talents like Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Eric Staal and even the NHL's reigning scoring champion Martin St. Louis.
Regardless of those left off the national squad, some of the world's best NHL players will don the coveted Canada sweater in Sochi.
Sidney Crosby will Captain this year's Olympic roster, and the "Golden Boy" will be surrounded by remarkable depth on offense, like Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp and Corey Perry.
Russia: Ovechkin's Hart Run Raising Bar for Other Forwards
Like Canada, Russia loaded up their roster with some of the best forwards in today's NHL.
The host country will be led by the NHL's reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin, who is well on his way to another Hart Memorial Trophy as he will enter the Sochi games as the NHL's current top goal scorer.
Russia will need Ovechkin's stellar play to raise the bar for the rest of his team — including former NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin, "The Magic Man" Pavel Datsyuk and former NHL superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.
Russia's core offense will largely land on the sticks of these four superstars, and seeing as how Russia's President Vladimir Putin sat the entire 2010 Olympic team down and thoroughly explained their on-ice performance as "humiliating", anything less than a berth in the gold medal game will be unacceptable.
Finland: Unmatched Goaltending
Finland's Olympic team will be lead by "The Finnish Flash" Teemu Selanne, however the Finns most important strength will be cycling their three talented netminders Tuukka Rask, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.
Niemi became Finland's first goaltender to win a Stanley Cup when he carried the Chicago Blackhawks to the finals in 2010, and fellow countrymen Tuukka Rask brought his Boston Bruins to last year's championship round
Rask leads the NHL in shutouts this season (5), and both Niemi and Rask rank in the top five in the league in wins and goals against average, for goalies who have started more than 40 games.
Sweden: Most Complete Squad All-Around
Canada will be the favorite coming into the Sochi games, but Sweden boasts the best talent across all areas of their roster (on paper).
Sweden will be loaded up front thanks to forwards like Alexander Steen, the Sedin twins, Gabriel Landeskog, Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Backstrom and Red Wings Captain Henrik Zetterberg.
The Swedish defense will be lead by 2012 Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who will have talents like Niklas Kronwall, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Alexander Edler backing him up.
Lastly, veteran and former Vezina winning goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will be anchoring the Swedes in Sochi.
Overall, Sweden will be bringing a very deep, elite team to the Sochi games with their sights set on gold.
United States: Elite Scoring Offense
After dropping a heartbreaker to Canada in the 2010 gold-medal game, passionate American hockey fans were eager to see the 2014 squad representing the United States—no matter how interesting some of the selections were.
Aside from the rocky start to the Sochi games, the fiery American offense will be lead by some of the NHL's elite scorers like Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski and Phil Kessel.
Kessel is currently fourth in the league with 61 points, just in front of Chicago's Patrick Kane who has tallied 60 points this season.
Remarkably, San Jose's Joe Pavelski has emerged as one of the league's top goal scorers with 29 goals.
Both Kessel and Pavelski were named to the NHL's "three stars of the month" for this past January.