NHL Teams Hurt the Most by the 2014 Winter Olympic Break

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2014

NHL Teams Hurt the Most by the 2014 Winter Olympic Break

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    The Olympic break is wrapping up and the NHL is getting back to work.

    Over the seven-week sprint until the playoffs begin, we'll see some teams that have benefited from the Olympic break—getting players back from injury, much-needed rests or emotional boosts from strong performances and positive experiences in Sochi.

    On the other side of the coin, plenty of top teams will be scrambling to cope with the fallout from the Olympic tournament. Injuries, heavy on-ice responsibilities and crushed confidence are just a few of the negative side effects that will need to be managed through the stretch run and on into the playoffs.

    Here's a look at eight teams that will have an extra burden to bear as they make their charge towards the postseason.

     

    Standings from NHL.com, current through Feb. 25.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: 

    Second in Central Division, third in Western Conference

    4-3-3 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    The Chicago Blackhawks had hit a midseason slump before the Olympic break, then sent literally half their players to Sochi.

    Six 'Hawks played in the gold-medal game. They had great tournaments, but they're also likely to be coming home tired. Meanwhile, Patrick Kane suffered his first professional disappointment in a long while—failing to score on two penalty shots in the United States' bronze-medal game against Finland.

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    For a player who usually steps up under pressure, Kane has to be rattled by his inability to score in such important situations. His maturity has grown by leaps and bounds, but it'll take a strong will to put that experience behind him.

    As for the rest of the Blackhawks, the players were showing signs of fatigue before the break. After playing a compressed lockout-year schedule, then a Stanley Cup playoff that reached until late June, then getting right back at it in October, they've played more games than any other team, except their fellow 2013 finalists from Boston.

    It would be hard to blame guys like Duncan Keith or Marian Hossa if they came back from Sochi with a little less gas in the tank.

Colorado Avalanche

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: 

    Third in Central Division, fifth in Western Conference

    6-4-0 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    For a young team looking to step up and be recognized among the NHL's best, the four Colorado Avalanche players who went to Sochi didn't make much of a case for themselves.

    Gold medalist Matt Duchene went pointless in four games with Team Canada, while silver medalist Gabriel Landeskog managed just one assist for the Swedes.

    Paul Stastny scored twice for the U.S. but couldn't contribute during the medal rounds. Most importantly, Semyon Varlamov came out average when he needed to be great in Russia's must-win quarterfinal game against Finland, allowing three goals on 15 shots before he was replaced by Sergei Bobrovsky with the game out of the already reach for Russia.

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    Much of Colorado's easy-season success came on the back of lights-out goaltending from Varlamov. His numbers have dipped slightly in recent months, but the team has been able to maintain a firm hold on a playoff position.

    Varlamov will need to be hungry on his return to Colorado if he hopes to guide the Avs to their first postseason berth in four years.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Where They Stand: 

    Fifth in Atlantic Division, eighth in Eastern Conference

    5-3-2 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    Head coach Mike Babcock came home with a gold medal and a feather in his cap for his masterful coaching job with Team Canada, but the Red Wings sent 10 players to Sochi and they didn't fare so well.

    Babcock's Red Wings feature six members of the Swedish team that Canada shut out in the gold-medal game. That includes captain Henrik Zetterberg, who's now on the shelf recovering from back surgery.

    Jimmy Howard didn't see any action for the U.S. team, so he's blameless for its defeat, but Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco were key members of an under-performing Slovak squad. Meanwhile, Pavel Datsyuk was one of Russia's best players, but even he couldn't salvage that group single-handedly.

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    The Red Wings have been dealing with injury issues all year and are now projecting they'll be without Zetterberg until the first round of the playoffs, according to NHL.com.

    First, they'll have to make the playoffs. The Wings hold down the last wild card spot coming out of the break, but the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals all sit just one point back. 

    Babcock is going to need to embark on another remarkable round of team-building if he hopes to get the Wings to the dance for the 23rd consecutive season.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Where They Stand: 

    Third in Pacific Division, seventh in Western Conference

    2-8-0 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    The Los Angeles Kings were ice-cold heading into the break. They were looking for great performances from their six Olympians to get back on track through the stretch run.

    Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter were both key members of Canada's gold-medal winning team and Anze Kopitar had some fun with the surprising Slovenians.

    But, Slava Voynov wasn't nearly as effective for Russia as he is in the NHL, while Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown both played below expectations on a disappointing Team USA.

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    As the Kings struggle to score goals, they'll need goaltender Quick to get back to his Stanley Cup form in a hurry if they hope to contend in the powerhouse Western Conference. Both he and Brown have had subpar seasons so far in the NHL, as well as in Sochi.

    The Kings are used to sneaking into the playoffs through the back door, and Drew Doughty continues to improve, but he can't do it all on his own.

New York Rangers

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Where They Stand: 

    Second in Metropolitan Division, sixth in Eastern Conference

    7-3-0 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    The New York Rangers were on a nice little run before the Olympic break, moving up the standings and establishing a bit of a cushion over the chase pack in the tight Eastern Conference.

    The Rangers' seven Olympians return with a gold medal around the neck of Rick Nash, but only a silver for "King" Henrik Lundqvist and no medals at all for U.S. team members Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan.

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    As part of the U.S. leadership group, Rangers' captain Callahan was one of the players who was expected to contribute on and off the ice. He finished with just one assist, was a minus-two and didn't manage to help right the ship when the American flame-out began.

    With Callahan scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, his contract negotiations take on an awkward tone. The New York Daily News is reporting that Callahan's looking for a seven-year extension at $7 million a year. If the two sides can't reach an agreement before the March 5 trade deadline, the Rangers team could take on a brand new complexion if Callahan ends up being dealt.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Where They Stand: 

    First in Metropolitan Division, first in Eastern Conference

    6-3-1 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    The Penguins sent seven players and their head coach to Sochi. Olli Maatta had a great tournament, and Jussi Jokinen also performed well, both for Finland.

    Beyond that, Evgeni Malkin was a weak link on a disappointing Russian team, recording just one goal and three points in five games. Among the Americans, Brooks Orpik was exposed for his lack of foot speed on the big ice, while his defense partner Paul Martin suffered a broken hand in the quarterfinal game against the Czechs.

    Meanwhile, coach Dan Bylsma bore the brunt of the blame for the collapse of a U.S. team that had looked so good in the preliminary rounds and was thought to be among the strongest ever assembled. 

    Even Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, who won gold medals with Canada, didn't score up to their usual levels in Sochi, though they got better as the tournament wore on.

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    Martin had been back in the Penguins' lineup for just 10 games before the Olympic break after missing two months with a broken leg. NHL.com reports that he's now sidelined for another 4-6 weeks with the hand injury suffered in Sochi. Martin's absence comes on top of Kris Letang's, another top-four blueliner who's reportedly out for at least another month after suffering a stroke.

    The Penguins' AHL call-ups have performed well for them during Martin and Letang's absences earlier in the season, but after four years of disappointment since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, you can bet that Bylsma wishes he could use his "A" roster through the season's final weeks as the team prepares to take another run at the big prize.

St. Louis Blues

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: 

    First in Central Division, second in Western Conference

    7-2-1 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    As the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks fight it out for a top spot in the Central Division, the only team in the Western Conference to have sent more players to Sochi than St. Louis was Chicago—10 versus nine. 

    The Blues had four players in the gold-medal game—Canada's defense pairing Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, and Sweden's Patrik Berglund and Alex Steen. They also supplied the U.S. Olympic team with one of its breakout stars when T.J. Oshie gave us a shootout performance for the ages.

    St. Louis will need to soothe the disappointment of not just Oshie but also his American teammates David Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk, Vladimir Tarasenko of Russia and goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who delivered one of the most startlingly sub-par performances of the Olympic hockey tournament in net for Slovakia.

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    While the Blues are challenging for a spot among the NHL's top teams and hoping to make a serious playoff run this year, there have been rumblings all season that they'll be looking to upgrade in goal. Both incumbents, Halak and Brian Elliott, are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

    It's rare to see a contender make a major change in net so close to the playoffs. It could dramatically alter the chemistry of a team that seems to have come together well, but Halak didn't do anything to instill confidence in the Blues' brain trust with this performance in Sochi.

Washington Capitals

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    Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: 

    Fourth in Atlantic Division, 11th in Eastern Conference

    5-4-1 in last 10 games before Olympic break

     

    Why Sochi Hurt:

    The Sochi Olympics were supposed to be Alexander Ovechkin's time to shine. After a history of playoff disappearances with the Washington Capitals and a disappointing performance in Vancouver in 2010, the NHL's leading goal-scorer was in perfect position to light it up in his homeland.

    He didn't: Many are starting to believe that he never will.

    Additionally, Caps' No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom suffered one of the strangest disappointments of the Olympics after he was pulled from the Swedish roster in the gold-medal game after failing a drug test due to his allergy medication. He'd been an effective member of his team's first line to that point, so there's no telling how much of a difference his absence made as the Swedes were shut out by Canada for gold. 

     

    Trouble Ahead:

    The strangeness of Backstrom's doping incident could either light a fire under him or sap away his will for the rest of the season. It's also hard to know what kind of mindset Ovechkin will be in after so spectacularly failing his country, then dealing with a sudden illness to his father after Russia's quarterfinal loss.

    Though Ovechkin was the NHL's leading goal scorer up to the Olympic break, his Capitals currently sit one point out of a playoff spot and are jammed up with several other desperate clubs. If they swoon for even a moment, they may find themselves outside the postseason picture for the first time since 2006-07.