You’d think because Team USA won the World Junior Championship that the Olympic team would be rated better than they are. Perhaps the hype over hockey south of the border was a passing fancy, and the true champions of the sport reside in the frozen tundra of Canada, Russia and Sweden who are all ranked before us for Gold in Vancouver.
Sure, Canada has Sidney Crosby, Russia has Ovechkin and the Swedes have brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Team USA has plenty of talent that is apparently being cast in fourth with no medal. Interesting to watch for international fans, the players from the Home of the Brave are facing lowered expectations that they can accomplish the feat to bring home a medal.
Starting goaltender for the US will be Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller who has had an outstanding year with a record of 29-14-6 including against teams with Crosby, Ovechkin and the Sedins. Miller has the best GAA rating among all the starting goalies with a 2.01, as well as his save percentage at .936%. He’s had hit a rough patch recently, but he leads with 27 shutouts. If he can’t stop a puck then Team USA can start worrying.
Both Los Angeles King Jonathan Quick and Boston Bruin Tim Thomas will back Miller in the net. Quick has had an outstanding year leading the Kings into a comfortable spot in the Western Conference, which no one anticipated. Quick holds a 34-17-3 record having won in his last two meetings with the heavily loaded Swedish Detroit Red Wings.
Thomas has had a tough time with the ailing Bruins and a record of 13-15-7. Controversial goaltender selections brewed over the selection of Quick and Thomas over the hotshot of the Colorado Avalanche, Craig Anderson.
Defending the net will be a chore for the Americans as they face some physical players from Russia and Sweden. Detroit Red Wing defenseman Brian Rafalski will lead the charge with previous Olympic experience. Rafalski’s resume is impressive with three Stanley Cups and two Olympics, winning Silver in 2002. But Rafalski doesn’t wander from the blue line with the intent of scoring except for setting up for the assist so he’ll have pressure to lead the inexperienced players and play more aggressively.
The Johnson boys, St. Louis Blues Erik Johnson and LA King Jack Johnson will debut in Vancouver both displaying a work ethic that impressed the US selection panel. Nashville Predator Ryan Suter will most likely be in the starting line-up with his strong play. Rounding out the healthy participants is Pittsburgh Penguins’ Brooks Orpik whose youth will be either an energetic positive addition or an inexperienced bad experiment. Orpik has experience playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which could prove to be beneficial against Canada and Russia.
Two of the defensemen, New Jersey Devil Paul Martin and Toronto Maple Leaf Mike Komisarek are reported to be unlikely to play, and will need to be replaced due to injuries. Martin is still holding out hope he could be ready by February 15th. Possible replacements rumored have included Carolina Hurricanes’ Tim Gleason; Ryan Whitney of the Anaheim Ducks; Pittsburgh Penguins’ Alex Goligoski; and from the Atlanta Thrashers, Ron Hainsey or Zach Bogosian.
Putting pressure on the scoring line, only Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner have Olympic games to back up their insight for their team. New York Rangers’ Drury won Silver in 2002, while New Jersey’s Langenbrunner played in Nagano in 1998 with no medal. Drury has been a bust this season and has disappointed in points, but has been able to be a leader. Langenbrunner’s Devils have held on tight in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference sitting in second behind Washington and Ovi.
The list of forwards consists of what The Hockey News calls, “youth over experience.”
David Backes of the St. Louis Blues has steadily climbed his way into the limelight, for better or for worse. Critics say he isn’t all that, but Backes has posted 34 points and 77 penalty minutes this season. His strength is scoring, while his weakness is fighting.
Dustin Brown of the LA Kings has 40 points this season and 22 penalty minutes. He is one reason the Kings have been able to dazzle the NHL and are holding steady for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Ryan Callahan’s debut on Broadway keeps outdoing each performance for the New York Rangers. He’s on par to surpass last season’s scoring, and he’s been heating up lately despite the Rangers lack of pizzazz in the playoff hunt. Expect Callahan to take the charge.
Patrick Kane is out of all the wingers, an anticipated star on the roster for crowds. Playing for the talented young Chicago Blackhawks, Kane has emerged with 64 points this year and a plus 17 rating. He’s good and doesn’t make mistakes.
Phil Kessel’s career in the NHL has matured into more scoring and less penalties. Though his team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, may not be anywhere near a playoff contender Kessel keeps his play as if he were.
Joe Pavelski is as even on goals and assists as ying is to yang. Pavelski makes his home with the San Jose Sharks and adds additional depth to the point machine of the Western Conference.
Ryan Kesler was a must have last year for fantasy hockey owners, so this year he was scooped up quickly. His presence in Vancouver was the secret ingredient for the Canucks. Though he won’t be traveling far, this will benefit the US with one less jetlagged player.
Paul Stastny had an opportunity to play for Canada or Slovakia, but good for Team USA to have the commitment from this Colorado Avalanche assistant captain. Stastny will draw international interest and hopefully draw plays towards the net.
Ryan Malone is a fantasy hockey owner’s dream with 42 points and 57 penalty minutes (if you’re in PIM leagues). The Tampa Bay Lightning knew Malone was something special and he’s proven he can keep up the points.
Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils is one player that was a must to represent the USA, though he sports a Canadian bloodline. Parise is the second leading scorer for the Devils and synonymous with the new energy of the team. It shows in their fiery style of play. Teammate Jamie Langenbrunner will lend some helpful advice.
Bobby Ryan ignites his style with the Anaheim Ducks. Ryan tallied 45 points and 57 penalty minutes so far this season. Let’s just hope he scores rather than scraps.
Youth over experience could leave Team USA into overdrive. But beware; the lack of experience could be costly when confronted with players with more skill, more exposure and more scoring. Mistakes can be costly with these high stakes, but it’s a great opportunity for these young NHL stars to be recognized as our team, Team USA.