We’ve made it to the playoff round of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament. There have been some surprises and there have been some disappointments. We know the men's hockey bracket going forward. (I’ve enclosed a handy set of TV listings for my American friends and my Canadian ones, as well.)
I’m going to put on my professors hat and assign a letter grade to each team by group. I’ll start with Group A winners, Team USA. If you like (or don’t like my grades) hit me up on Twitter @DanMountSports or comment below.
Analysis: This is better than I expected for the Americans. I thought for sure they’d lose to Russia in the second game, but we all know about heroics of St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie in the 3-2 shootout win. However, it’s been a complete effort for them. The young defense pairings have been fast and able to cover the large sheet of ice. The scorers have been scoring. (Especially the line of Joe Pavelski-Phil Kessel-James vanRiemsdyk) Jonathan Quick has been great and Ryan Miller did a great fill-in job against Slovenia. This team can win the gold.
Analysis: Oh the pressure the Russians must be facing. The players are on edge it seems like after their loss and shootout win over disappointing Slovakia. (Even though some won’t the loss vs. the U.S. go.) Alex Ovechkin only has two points and those came in the first game against Slovenia. I don’t think Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov have played bad in net, but they need some scoring in a hurry. Ovie has wanted this gold medal for a long time, but it could be slipping away.
Analysis: They may only have one win and lost to the U.S. and Russia, but I said in the roster preview for this team that they were just happy to be here. Getting that win has meant a ton to the country and its hockey program. Anze Kopitar by far is their best player, but I think some of his teammates might be getting calls from NHL general managers for some tryout and possible contracts. It’s a tribute to how far the country has come as a hockey nation.
Analysis: I really thought the Slovaks could’ve given the Americans a heck of a game. However, they have been racked by injuries (the latest to Tomas Kopecky) and terrible defense and goaltending. Every other defensemen other than the venerable Zdeno Chara has been awful. Jaroslav Halak has been dreadful in net. This tournament has been a flop so far for Slovakia.
Analysis: Why am I giving Canada and Slovakia the same grade? It’s a little thing called expectations. The goaltending duo of Carey Price and Roberto Luongo has been solid. Drew Doughty has been a pillar of strength on the defensive end, but there are still some things to worry about. Coach Mike Babcock is still tinkering with his lines to get the right combinations. Some think the draw will be tough for Canada. They have a potential date with the Swiss, who often frustrate Canada with their defense-first system.
Analysis: The Finns have made of their bad injury situation. Their center situation is tenuous with the loss of Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu missing the games. Finland also lost their wonderkid Aleksander Barkov for the rest of the games. They do have a great goalie in Tukka Rask and are smart with the puck. The potential quarterfinal against Russia could be huge.
Analysis: They got blown out a couple of times to Canada and Finland, but that was to be expected. However, Michael Grabner has played very well and helped the Austrians get their first Olympic win in 12 years. Getting a win at the Olympics give them hope for the future.
Analysis: The Norwegians don’t have anyone outside of Mats Zuccarello that can really score. They played alright against Canada, but looked outclassed versus Finland and lost to Austria. Norway faces the tall order of facing the host Russians in an elimination game. (They haven’t won an Olympic hockey game since 1994.)
Analysis: The Swedes have really flown under the radar this tournament with all the hype around Russia, the U.S. and Canada. However, Sweden is a pretty good team. Despite injuries to players like Henrik Zetterberg, Sweden keeps going. They are ready for a big finish with a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist and defensemen Erik Karlson. With Canada and U.S. on the other end of the bracket, Sweden is a favorite for gold.
Analysis: This tournament could signal the arrival of Swiss hockey as a legitimate contender. They’ve improved a ton this tournament. Jonas Hiller can shatter many an Olympic dream. They play a defensive system that can frustrate teams and played Canada tough the last few years. Switzerland will be pesky.
Analysis: The Czechs haven’t found their scoring touch since putting two past Henrik Lundqvist in game one. They grinded out a win over Latvia and lost to Switzerland in the other two games, and have been a major disappointment. There will be incentive to beat Slovakia and get a date with the U.S. The Czechs and Slovak game will be heated.
Analysis: Latvia can actually do a decent job at scoring as they did score three against Sweden. They are a gritty bunch that won’t go down without a fight. However, they were stymied by the Swiss and I expect the same again.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the playoff listings. Enjoy.
(8) Slovenia vs. (9) Austria, 3 a.m. ET (NBCSN, TSN): Winner plays Sweden
(5) Russia vs. (12) Norway, 7:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC): Winner plays Finland
(6) Czech Republic vs. (11) Slovakia, Noon ET (NBCSN, CBC): Winner plays U.S.
(7) Switzerland vs. (10) Latvia, Noon ET (MSNBC, TSN): Winner plays Canada