The preliminary round of Men’s Olympic Hockey has completed, and with it comes a brand new batch of exciting games in what could easily be deemed the most competitive medal race in history. With each team having played three-game stanzas within a selected group, the focus now turns to a win-or-go-home mentality over the next seven days.
In the end, only one team will emerge with the gold medal for their country. So with that in mind, we key in on the preliminary all-stars that have thrived in the Olympic setting as well as some of the bigger busts on the Vancouver stage.
Goalies: The Best
Henrik Lundqvist, SWE (2-0, 0.00 GAA, 1.00 Save Percentage, 2 Shutouts)
King Henrik dazzled in his rookie campaign en route to a gold medal for in Torino in 2006. To say that he has picked up where he left off would be a brash understatement. Hank is the only starting goalie in the tournament that has yet to relinquish a goal (not including Roberto Luongo, technically Canada’s backup), and factually speaking, he hasn’t even been tested to the nth degree yet.
With a few days to rest, Lundqvist’s next real test will more than likely be his own New York Rangers teammate Marian Gaborik and Team Slovakia, the very same team that upended Russia in a shootout last week.
Jaroslav Halak, SLV (2-1, 1.33 GAA, .951 Save Percentage, 1 Shutout)
Speaking of Slovakia, no player could receive more credit for his efforts in the Round Robin than net minder Halak, who is making a strong case for Montreal to get the ball rolling on his immediate future and expiring contract. Halak’s work has easily been the most highlight-ridden, featuring excellent saves against the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Evgeni Malkin during an eight round shootout.
If Slovakia wishes to keep their dark horse hopes alive, Halak will likely have to carry the team on his back while perennial goal scorers Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa get their groove back.
Ryan Miller, USA (3-0, 1.66 GAA, .929 Save Percentage)
And then, there’s the current hero for the United States, Ryan Miller. Miller’s outstanding individual performance against Team Canada on Sunday helped eclipse two invisible showings in which he faced a combined total of 26 shots.
But against Canada’s best, Miller played an inspired 60 minutes that tripled his productivity and kept him as the only goalie to win three straight to star the tournament. All indication is clear sailing for the U.S. into the semifinals, securing them a shot at a Bronze medal at worst.
Goalies: The Worst
Martin Brodeur, CAN (1-1, 3.00 GAA, .866 Save Percentage)
Few fans are left supporting Martin Brodeur following the U.S. upset of Canada on Sunday. Brodeur’s uninspired effort relinquished soft goals, far too many rebounds, and, in essence, victory itself. Whether or not Marty is shaking off his own cobwebs has yet to be seen, but given the singular shutout performance of Roberto Luongo against Norway, now may be the time to pull the old bait and switch.
Edgars Masalskis, LAT (0-3, 6.00 GAA, .850 Save Percentage)
Facing an average of 40 shots through three games can’t be easy. Giving up six goals to Slovakia (who has only scored 9 in the tournament) isn’t either.
Andre Lysenstoen, NOR (0-0, .600 Save Percentage)
In relief of the overworked Pal Grotnes, this Norwegian goalie stumbled out of the gate, allowing four goals on just ten shots as Canada steamrolled Team Norway 8-0 on opening day.
Forwards and Defensemen: The Best
Brian Rafalski, USA (4 Goals, 1 Assist, 5 Points)
The Detroit Red Wings certainly wish Brian Rafalski had this kind of power to take over a game all season. Rafalski’s four-consecutive U.S. goals was an accomplishment in and of itself, but his ability to play the two-way game against the best players in the world has been nothing short of exceptional as well.
For a team that had a lot of scoring questions coming in, to see a defensemen dominating the bracket certainly speaks volumes.
Ryan Suter, USA (0 Goals, 4 Assists, 4 Points)
Looking up and down at Team USA’s defensive corps likely would have singled out Ryan Suter as the weak link. Not so fast, says Suter. In three games, Suter has been an exemplary standout on the blueline that helped spark the United States offense into first place.
Roman Wick, SUI (2 Goals, 2 Assists, 4 Points)
Pretty much the only offense Switzerland has seen in the entire tournament has come from Wick, a 6'0" forward with incredibly fast hands. Though he never played a game in the NHL (drafted in 2004 by the Ottawa Senators), this may be as good a tryout as any for a team willing to take a flyer on the Swiss National League star.
Dany Heatley, CAN (4 Goals, 1 Assist, 5 Points)
Picking up right where he left off in the regular season, Dany Heatley is one of those players you wish you had on your team. He swoops in on the scrums in front and buries pucks in the back of the net with general ease. His speed and intensity are enough to make you cringe if you have to defend it.
Sidney Crosby, CAN (2 Goals, 3 Assists, 5 Points)
As if this wasn’t expected, Sid the Kid shines on the global stage for Team Canada. Having won the Switzerland game on his own (thank you very much IIHF shootout rule committee), Crosby also managed to put the Canadians back in the game, if only briefly, on Sunday.
He’s the most motivated player on the ice and you find yourself holding your breath whenever he touches the puck.
Evgeni Malkin, RUS (3 Goals, 2 Assists, 5 Points)
Sid’s partner in crime in Pittsburgh is having his second Olympic exhibition, and, for a team that hasn’t performed quite to their level yet, Malkin excels. Clutch goals against Latvia and the Czech Republic helped ignite Russia’s offense which has been underwhelming at best, particularly on the Power Play (Malkin has both of Russia’s PP goals).
Alexei Morozov, RUS (2 Goals, 0 Assists, 2 Points)
Of all the KHL stars playing for Mother Russia, none is playing more proficiently than Morozov, an ex-Penguin with a lethal shot and quick release that could make Marian Gaborik blush. Both of his goals were pivotal to Russia’s current position and with the KHL factor looming ominously over the Russians, a player like Morozov could be key in bridging the gap.
Sergei Kostitsyn, BEL (2 Goals, 3 Assists, 5 Points)
Without his brother Andrei in the picture, it appears as if Sergei Kostitsyn is finally hitting pay dirt, and for Belarus, it couldn’t come at a better time. Sergei’s efforts helped Belarus draw a favorable contest against the Swiss rather than the uphill climbs they’d have had they been without him (Canada, Czech Republic, and Slovakia).
Nicklas Backstrom, SWE (1 Goal, 4 Assists, 5 Points)
The best Swede on the ice (other than King Henrik) has got to be Backstrom, who has stepped out from the Ovechkin shadow in the Olympics to lead the Swedes to the top once again. Backstrom’s outstanding passes and playmaking ability give Sweden a competitive edge, especially if he decides to shoot the puck more often.
It seems that Backstrom is involved on every play in which Sweden scores.
Loui Eriksson, SWE (3 Goals, 0 Assists, 3 Points)
This talented youngster emerged from pure obscurity in Dallas last season, and for all intents and purposes, he’s doing it again in the 2010 Olympics. Eriksson’s production may become an important tool if the Swedish elite plan to repeat with the gold medal.
Tomas Plekanec, CZE (3 Goals, 0 Assists, 3 Points)
Other than a beautiful goal against Evgeni Nabokov on Sunday, Plekanec has been as active has his NHL-teammate Jaroslav Halak in pursuit of attention and recognition. Plekanec surprisingly leads all Czech players in goals scored thus far.
Marek Zidlicky, CZE (0 Goals, 5 Assists, 5 Points)
Much like Ryan Suter of Team USA, Zidlicky has come into his own for the Czech Republic as a catalyst-type defender that possesses some of the best decision-making skills from the point. With no player over five points in the Olympic race, Zidlicky’s assists have come on exactly half of the Czech’s goals.
Jaromir Jagr, CZE (2 Goals, 1 Assist, 3 Points)
Jagr’s impressive play at age 38 has given fans and media a new infatuation with the former superstar in hopes that he will resume his NHL career following his current KHL campaign. Jagr’s expressed interest could have been his highlight of the tournament, had not he been flattened by Alex Ovechkin on Sunday.
Pavol Demitra, SLV (1 Goal, 2 Assists, 3 Points)
So if Jagr is looking for some kind of revenge on the Great 8, perhaps he should look at the play style of Pavol Demitra, who has played the best hockey of his career in the last three games. Demitra totally shelved Ovie after he too was hammered by the Russian stud.
Forwards and Defensemen: The Worst
Joe Thornton, CAN (0 Goals, 1 Assist, 1 Point)
Will Super Joe ever show the ability to play on a big stage? His one assist ranks amongst the worst performance from any of the eight San Jose Sharks playing in the Olympic Games.
Ilya Kovalchuk, RUS (1 Goal, 1 Assist, 2 Points)
Much like he was when he first jumped to New Jersey, Kovalchuk has been wholly disappointing in this Olympic trial and is a major reason that the Russian Power Play has produced only two goals despite ample opportunity.
The Entire German Offense (Three Goals For, 12 against)
Waited until their third game to begin scoring, at which point they still lost.
Marian Gaborik, SLV (1 Goal, 0 Assists, 1 Point)
Just how bad was that leg laceration? Gaborik’s play indicates that he likely should have skipped the competition altogether before he risks further injury and causes New York Ranger fans to lose all hope on their fledgling season.