Guest article written by Saeed Rajan
A memorable morning today, as Canada announced it’s Olympic Mens Hockey roster for the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. Most players who expected to make the team, did so, with a few surprise sneak-ins as well as a few surprise snubs.
Projected Forward Lines
Line 1: Kunitz – Crosby – Tavares
There is no doubt that Kunitz and Crosby make each other better. 2010 was a clear indication that it is not easy to play with Sidney Crosby. Tavares is arguably the most pure scorer in the game today, and his ability to find open space, anticipate plays, as well as shoot first will be assets playing alongside Crosby and Kunitz. Kunitz has already proven that he can produce alongside the Kid, and his ability to use the body will create even more space for Crosby and Tavares to build a strong chemistry throughout the tournament. This line will continue to get better every single game.
Line 2: Sharp – Toews – Benn
Toews and Sharp are arguably the hottest duo in the National Hockey League entering the month of January, and they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. Jamie Benn has also been on a tear of his own and his skill allows him to create plays out of nothing. Adding Benn’s grit to a smaller pairing in Toews and Sharp should give the two Blackhawks a lot of room to work their magic. Benn’s size matched up with Toews’s defensive prowess will play wonders for Canada in all three zones of the ice. With the talent on this line, It’s hard to believe the majority of the play will not be in the offensive zone once the 2 hawks get accustomed to playing with the all rounder, Benn.
Line 3: Stamkos – Getzlaf – Perry
Big bodies, playmaking, and sniping on all cylinders. Getzlaf, Perry, and Stamkos could, and probably would be the first line on any other team in the olympics. Getzlaf and Perry will get to play their natural positions and Stamkos will be able to find his favorite spot in the left faceoff circle where Getzlaf will have a number of options on which weapon he decides to use. This line spells grit, vision, and elite skill, however the skating can become somewhat of a concern on the large ice. I believe Yzerman is going to make it a point to have his best skating defensive line of Jay-Bo and Pietrangelo on to support every shift of this heavy weight lineup.
Line 4: Duchene – Bergeron – Marleau
Speed and energy will be the main focus of this lineup. Generate quick chances in the offensive zone while being defensively sound and playing a solid possession game. Although the line up of Marleau, Bergeron, and Duchene does not possess a lot of size, it does scream 2-way hockey, and with Marleau, and Duchene flying down the sideboards, you can expect a lot of counter-attacks and breakaways coming from this pesky fourth line. You’re likely to see a sizely and skilled Weber/Doughty pairing to complement this line extremely well in the offensive zone as well as the defensive zone. Puck distibution will be key from defencemen to this fourth line and nobody does it better than the Kings’ and Preds’ main 2 guys!
Extra Forwards: Nash, Carter
With the amount of two-way hockey going on, it’s hard to believe that Canada will run into scoring issues, but there is a chance that a couple extra snipers might be necessary for a team that runs the risk of over-passing the puck. The stingy Jeff Carter and skilled, power forward, Rick Nash will be the sparks Canada will need if they end up running into this problem at all.
Projected Defense Pairings
Keith – Subban
Weber – Doughty
Bouwmeester – Pietrangelo
Vlasic – Hamhuis
Canada’s defence is arguably the best in the tournament with everything from shut down ability, transition game, and game breaking offensive panache. The emphasis, from coach Mike Babcock, on carrying equal numbers of left and right defenders got Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Hamhuis onto the team. They bring a reliable game and recent Stanley Cup playoff experience. Canada boasts two of the biggest bombs from the point in the world with PK Subban and Shea Weber. On the big ice, Subban’s transition game is going to be fun to watch and a nightmare to contain. Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, and Alex Pietrangelo are the premier transition and setup men that will run things up and down the ice. Often underrated, Jay Bouwmeester is another reliable defender who brings a wealth of Team Canada experience, while enjoying possibly his best offensive season yet.
Combining youth and experience, the 1-2 goalie pair for Canada is likely to be Roberto Luongo and Carey Price, with Mike Smith serving as the third goalie. With still a month of hockey action left, and lingering injury concerns for the Canucks beloved Bobby Lou, its impossible to determine the starter. Look for Mike Babcock to give each of Price and Loungo a start in the round robin, then ride the goalie he thinks is playing at the top of their game.
The projected lines and reasoning behind them is simple – chemistry. Canada boasts the 3 best 1-2-punch combinations in the league. Needless to say, Canada wants Crosby/Kunitz, Toews/Sharp, and Getzlaf/Perry to keep doing what they’ve been doing all season. Canada will be commited to these offensive pairings on the first three lines. In 2010, Yzerman ran into early issues with chemistry and ended up shuffling the lines sevaral times before the team found its groove. This time around, it appears as though 2 players on each of the top 3 lines will be there to stay. Expect Benn, Tavares, Stamkos, Nash, and Carter to get chances with each pairing during the early stages of the tournament if there’s any indication of lathargic play.
Canada will be strong down the middle and the faceoffs are what’s going to keep Canada a step ahead of opposing teams. With the amount room available on international ice, faceoffs plays a huge role for Canada to play a possession game and with Crosby, Toews, Bergeron, and Getzlaf taking the draws, we can assume that Babcock plans to keep the puck on Canadian sticks for the majority of the games.
Hockey Canada chose to leave off 3 out of its top 7 five on five scorers this season in Jumbo Joe Thornton, and subjects of the Taylor Hall vs Tyler Seguin draft debate. If lack of offence brings this team down then some of these decisions will come under closer scrutiny. Other notable omissions include Stevie Y’s own Marty St. Louis, Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Logan Couture, Brent Seabrook, Mark Giordano, and James Neal.
The headliner has got to be St. Louis given the testicular fortitude it required for Yzerman to leave his NHL team’s leader at home. Regardless of his boss or potential pairing with Steven Stamkos, St. Louis should be going to Sochi based on merit. A two-time Art Ross trophy winner including the latest one last year, and Hart trophy winner, St. Louis continues to play at an elite level with 38 points in 42 games this season. On top of that, St. Louis has won a Stanley Cup and has gone through the challenges of playing an Olympics overseas. Based on current play, leadership, chemistry and experience, all signs point to the St. Louis omission as being a mistake, but at the end of the day, all that really matters in this hockey land of Canada is Gold.
For Hockeyland Canada,