Olympic Hockey 2014: Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Quarterfinalist
The preliminary and qualification rounds of the Olympic men's ice hockey tournament are complete. Eight teams will move on to meet in quarterfinal action, in which the losers will be eliminated from further competition.
It's been interesting following the journey of these eight clubs to this point in the tournament. There have been some outstanding individual performances and some surprises. It's also provided insight into the respective strengths and weaknesses of these teams.
Several clubs have reached the quarterfinals with seemingly little effort. Some have had to cope with unexpected roster weaknesses. Several have struggled in areas expected to be their strengths. A couple of teams exceeded expectations with upset victories in the qualification round.
The following is a brief analysis of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the eight men's ice hockey quarterfinalists.
Strengths: Goaltenders Carey Price and Roberto Luongo were sharp through the preliminaries. Few clubs can match the Canadians' puck-possession game. Led by Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, Canada's defensemen are very effective in joining the rush. Team Canada's considerable depth at forward and defense gives it a distinct advantage over Latvia in the quarterfinals.
Weaknesses: The Canadians' forwards are struggling to score against teams that employ a defensive trapping system. Of their 11 goals scored in the preliminaries, only five came from forwards. Superstars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry and John Tavares have yet to score. Their power play needs improvement.
Strengths: The Czechs possess a solid core of veterans headed by Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Tomas Plekanec, David Krejci and Marek Zidlicky. Most of their best NHL players have risen to the occasion in this tournament. Their qualification-round victory over Slovakia should provide an emotional lift heading into the quarterfinals against the United States.
Weaknesses: The Globe & Mail's James Mirtle reports questionable roster moves by coach Alois Hadamczik have become an unnecessary distraction. Elias missed two games to illness and remains questionable for the quarterfinals. The Czechs lack skilled goaltending and penalty-killing depth, which could hurt them against the Americans.
Strengths: Goaltender Tuukka Rask is playing very well. The Finns play a disciplined game and avoid penalties. Their defensive trap nearly led to an upset of Canada during the preliminary round. They can count on offensive contributions from their blue line. Defensemen Olli Maatta and Sami Vatanen are among the tournament's leading scorers.
Weaknesses: Injuries are taking a toll on the Finns' forward lines. Aleksander Barkov recently joined Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula on the sidelines. Their reliance on a defensive trap means they spend too much time in their own zone. That could prove costly against Russia in the quarterfinals. Their penalty-killing percentage is a tournament-worst 60 percent.
Strengths: The Latvians are well-coached by Ted Nolan, having bought into his feisty defensive system. Edgars Masalskis is among the tournament's leading goaltenders. Latvia possesses the second-best power play percentage. Its upset of Switzerland in the qualification round will give the team an emotional boost entering the quarterfinals.
Weaknesses: The Latvians lack sufficient depth to match up well against the stronger hockey powers. They are among the tournament's lowest-scoring teams. They're also among the leaders in penalty minutes and have the second-worst penalty kill. That could prove a fatal weakness against the Canadians in the quarterfinals.
Strengths: Goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky are playing well. The Russians play a strong puck-possession game. Superstars Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk are always a threat to score whenever they're on the ice. Winger Alexander Radulov has improved since his undisciplined performance against the Americans in the preliminaries.
Weaknesses: Russia's top scorers were inconsistent throughout the preliminary round. Datsyuk, the team's best two-way forward, is playing hurt. Concerns remain about the Russians' defensive depth. They are struggling on the power play and the penalty kill. They're also under tremendous pressure to win gold on home ice.
Strengths: NHL star Anze Kopitar is among Slovenia's leading scorers. Forward Ziga Jeglic is among the tournament's overall scoring leaders. The Slovenians have the fifth-best penalty kill. Advancing to the quarterfinals in their first-ever Olympics gives them a huge confidence boost. They're a hard-working, likable underdog that never quits.
Weaknesses: They've allowed the fifth-most goals and have the fifth-worst power play. Despite their upsets of Switzerland and Slovakia, the overachieving Slovenians lack the depth to do the same against a powerhouse like Sweden in the quarterfinals.
Strengths: Despite an injury-ravaged lineup, the Swedes went undefeated through the preliminary round. Henrik Lundqvist has provided solid goaltending. Superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson is the Swedes' leading scorer. They have the tournament's best power play. Their overall roster depth gives them a distinct advantage against overmatched Slovenia in the quarterfinals.
Weaknesses: The Swedes have yet to be tested by a strong opponent. Losing Henrik Zetterberg to injury leaves them thin at center and hurts their scoring punch. They're not getting much production from young forwards Gabriel Landeskog, Marcus Johansson, Gustav Nyquist and Jakob Silfverberg.
Strengths: Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller were rock solid in the preliminary round. Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie and Joe Pavelski are among the tournament's top 10 scorers. The Americans are leading the pack in scoring efficiency and possess the third-best penalty kill. Their overall depth gives them a considerable advantage over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.
Weaknesses: Forwards Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler and Max Pacioretty have yet to score. During their preliminary win against Russia, the Americans failed to score an even-strength goal while their defense struggled at times. They could have some difficulty against tougher competition.