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Winner (possibly) takes all
With both the U.S. and Russia winning their opening games of the tournament handily and swapping opponents Slovenia and Slovakia on Sunday, the Group A bye into the quarterfinal will likely come down to who wins this head-to-head battle.
Russia struggled somewhat in their opener Thursday, eventually pulling away for a 5-2 win over Slovenia, while the U.S. dominated in a 7-1 victory over the more NHL-worthy Slovaks to give the Americans an early edge in goal differential should they finish tied.
Who starts in goal?
These teams both boast solid tandems and could start different netminders than the opening game. The Russians had Sergei Bobrovsky as backup and the Americans had 2010 MVP Ryan Miller on the bench.
Both of these guys are expected to play at some point, but with the matchup being the most critical of the group games, it has been announced that Jonathan Quick will remain in the crease for the U.S. An educated guess leans toward Semyon Varlamov making his second straight start for Russia.
Will coaches mix and match?
The group games are an opportunity to experiment and seek out chemistry, but with the U.S. playing so well against Slovakia, it's difficult to imagine head coach Dan Bylsma making any major changes despite toying a bit with his lines in practice leading up the the opening contest.
Russia wasn't nearly as flawless against arguably the weakest team in the competition. But it doesn't have the same kind of forward depth as the other medal favorites, so tinkering would be minor with a top four of Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin planted firmly as the base for the top two lines.
Is Russia overrated?
It's early, but the host team is already being picked apart. The fact Slovenia scored a couple of goals is troubling, and the pressure on Russia is already extremely heavy.
This game will go a long way in determining whether or not Russia really has what it takes to make the medal rounds. The hosts could go completely off the rails if they fail to at least compete with the 2010 silver medalist.