Around the League
The league wraps up a little earlier this Saturday, as players lucky enough to represent their countries fly off to Sochi, chasing their golden dreams. Unlike in 2010, there’s a complete lack of familiarity, other than the fact that hockey is still the name of the game. The dimensions of the rinks will be different, the crowds will be different, the routines will be different, and even the teams will be different, with Austria and Slovenia making appearances.
When the Olympics are held on North American soil, such as in 2002 in Salt Lake City and 2010 in Vancouver, North American teams tend to do well, with Canada and USA finishing first and second in both years. But Nagano in 1998 and Torino in 2006 proved to be disastrous years for the Canadians and Americans, with both countries acknowledging that mistakes may have been made in the composition of their teams, given the different style of play required on international rinks.
Steve Yzerman returns as Canada’s manager in their quest for a second consecutive gold medal, but will this year be the year North American brain trusts figure it out in Europe? The management team that filled out the 1998 roster had the benefit of the doubt, since it was the first time NHL players were allowed to participate. In 2006, after an ego-inflating win in 2002, the importance of speed on bigger ice surface was overlooked, which led to embarrassing finishes for Canada (seventh) and USA (eighth).
It’s anyone’s guess which country will take home the gold. In a short, winner-takes-all tournament, anything can happen, especially with teams ushering a generation of young stars, such as Finland’s Aleksander Barkov, Slovakia’s Tomas Tatar and Latvia’s Zemgus Girgensons. The competition is also more wide-open than ever, with countries such as Slovakia and Switzerland establishing themselves on the world stage. Both teams are capable of a few upsets, and the Swiss nearly upset the Canadians in 2010.
Canada has put together a well-rounded lineup and features the world’s best player in Sidney Crosby, but, as in previous years, enters the tournament without a lot of confidence in its goaltending. USA, on the other hand, will have one of the best tandems with Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick, and will be worrying more about scoring goals after passing over on Bobby Ryan.
The Finns, even without Pekka Rinne, feature even stronger goaltending than the Americans, with Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask. Not to be outdone, Sweden will counter with Henrik Lundqvist, who was considered the league’s best goalie prior to the season, and a defense that features Niklas Kronwall, Alex Edler and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Both teams, however, will be reeling from injuries up front, with Finnish captain Mikko Koivu (ankle) and center Valtteri Filppula (ankle) unable to participate, and Swedish alternate captain Henrik Sedin (ribs) and winger Johan Franzen (concussion) withdrawing from the tournament as well.
The Czechs will field a more veteran lineup, with the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Kaberle, while Slovakia counters with Zdeno Chara and Michal Handzus. Neither team are considered the most talented, but both have shown a history of good performances at the Olympics.
The Russians, as expected, feature more firepower than ever, with super sniper Alex Ovechkin and young phenom Valeri Nichushkin, but will be under the most pressure to perform in front of their home fans. The Russians, it bears reminding, have not medaled in two straight Olympics. Not only will historic rivals Russia and Canada be looking to renew hostilities with each other, countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Latvia also have historical and cultural incentives to win a medal in the former USSR.
Given how much hullabaloo has already been made about the problems in Sochi, from “dangerous face water” to uncovered manholes in the middle of the streets to threats of terrorist attacks, it’d be nice if the gold medal game had a storybook finish – and by that, of course, I mean Canada winning their third gold medal in another heart-pounding overtime win, but with Martin St. Louis scoring the game-winner against Russia, while the Swedes’ more controlled, technical game hold the Americans at bay for a bronze medal finish.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here are your Saturday games.
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Calgary Flames (Reto Berra*) at Philadelphia Flyers (Steve Mason), 1:00 PM
Winnipeg Jets (Al Montoya*) at St. Louis Blues (Brian Elliott*), 2:00 PM
Ottawa Senators (Craig Anderson*) at Boston Bruins (Tuukka Rask), 3:00 PM
Vancouver Canucks (Roberto Luongo) at Toronto Maple Leafs (Jonathan Bernier), 6:00 PM
Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price) at Carolina Hurricanes (Cam Ward), 6:00 PM
Detroit Red Wings (Jimmy Howard) at Tampa Bay Lightning (Ben Bishop), 7:00 PM
Colorado Avalanche (Jean-Sebastien Giguere*) at New York Islanders (Evgeni Nabokov), 7:00 PM
New Jersey Devils (Cory Schneider) at Washington Capitals (Braden Holtby*), 8:00 PM
Anaheim Ducks (Jonas Hiller) at Nashville Predators (Carter Hutton), 8:00 PM
Phoenix Coyotes (Mike Smith) at Dallas Stars (Kari Lehtonen), 8:00 PM
Injury News For Teams Playing Saturday
Curtis Glencross, LW – (high ankle sprain) no return date set.
Karri Ramo, G – (MCL) out indefinitely.
Chris Pronger, D – (concussion) out indefinitely.
Jim Slater, C - (sports hernia) no timetable forr return.
Matt Halischuk, RW - (forearm) skating, but no return date set.
Grant Clitsome, D – (back surgery) out for the season.
Evander Kane, LW - (hand) placed on IR Monday.
St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW - (illness) practicing, questionable for Saturday.
Vladimir Sobotka, C - (left leg) expected to return after Olympics.
Chris Phillips, D - (undisclosed) doubtful for Saturday, likely to return after Olympics.
Dennis Seidenberg, D – (torn ACL/MCL) out for the season.
Adam McQuaid, D - (leg) not practicing yet, likely out for Saturday.
Zdeno Chara, D – (personal) will miss Saturday’s game as Slovakia’s flag bearer in Sochi.
Henrik Sedin, C - (ribs) expected to return after Olympics.
Andrew Alberts, D - (head) no timetable for return.
Kevin Bieksa, D - (undisclosed) placed on IR, will not play Saturday.
Yannick Weber, D - (undisclosed) did not finish Friday’s game, doubtful for Saturday.
Mike Santorelli, RW - (shoulder surgery) out for the season.
Chris Tanev, D - (thumb) placed on IR Thursday, will return after Olympic break.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Peter Holland, C - (foot) did not play Tuesday, doubtful for Saturday.
Carter Ashton, RW - (hand) placed on IR Tuesday.
Trevor Smith, C – (undisclosed) no return date set.
Dave Bolland, C - (ankle surgery) no return date set.
Travis Moen, LW - (lower body) will not play Saturday.
Davis Drewiske, D - (shoulder) cleared for full contact, but no timetable for return.
Michael Bournival, LW - (upper body) will not play Saturday.
Alex Galchenyuk, C - (broken hand) skating on his own, no timetable for return.
Joni Pitkanen, D - (heel) out for the season.
Detroit Red Wings
Stephen Weiss, C - (sports hernia) will return after Olympic break.
Jakub Kindl, D - (lower body) will not play Saturday.
Johan Franzen, LW - (concussion) no timetable for return.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Valtteri Filppula, C – (broken ankle) no timetable for return.
Ben Bishop, G – (upper body) day-to-day, questionable for Saturday.
Steven Stamkos, C - (leg) will not return until after Olympics.
Anders Lindback, G – (ankle) believed to be serious, no timetable for return.
Brian Lee, D - (knee) not practicing on ice yet.
Mattias Ohlund, D - (knee) out for the season.
Cory Sarich, D - (back) out indefinitely.
Alex Tanguay, LW - (knee) did not skate Thursday, doubtful for Saturday.
David Van der Gulik, RW - (undisclosed) placed on IR.
New Jersey Devils
Anton Volchenkov, D - (lower body) did not play Friday, doubtful for Saturday.
Mike Green, D - (concussion) practicing, no return date set.
Mikhail Grabovski, C - (ankle) will not play.
Jack Hillen, D - (leg) no timetable for return.
Aaron Volpatti, LW - (shoulder) placed on IR.
John Erskine, D - (leg) did not play Thursday, doubtful for Saturday.
Nick Bonino, C - (upper body) game-time decision.
Viktor Fasth, G - (lower body) skated Thursday, no return date set.
Sheldon Souray, D – (wrist surgery) out for the season.
Mark Fistric, D - (lower body) no return date set.
Pekka Rinne, G - (hip) no timetable for return.
Nick Spaling, LW - (upper body) sat out Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Viktor Stalberg, LW – (upper body) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Stephane Robidas, D - (leg) out for another month.
Mikael Backlund, C, CGY – The Flames’ first-round pick from 2007 is finally living up to the hype with 14 goals and 29 points, both career bests. Backlund was seen as the future center for then-captain Jarome Iginla, but his offensive talents were never realized. Over the past six games, however, Backlund has scored six goals as the Flames head into the break with just one loss in their past seven games. Despite rumors that Backlund would take Henrik Sedin or Johan Franzen’s spot on Team Sweden for the Olympics, Marcus Johansson of the Caps and Gustav Nyquist of the Red Wings were selected instead.
Gustav Nyquist, RW, DET – Nyquist has 14 goals in just 32 games this season, but more importantly has now established some chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg. The Swedish winger has nine goals in his past nine games, and his recent strong play earned him a spot on the national team as an injury replacement. Nyquist is still available in the majority of leagues, and if he performs well at the Olympics against top-notch competition, his stock could skyrocket.
Steve Mason, G, PHI – Mason’s play after his rookie season was a constant headache for then-general manager Scott Howson in Columbus, but this might be the first time in Mason’s career he’s made someone angry for playing so well. Mason has allowed just three goals in his past three games – all of them wins – and Flyers owner Ed Snider openly lashed out at the NHL on Friday, declaring the Olympic break a bad idea because it disrupts the Flyers’ mojo. Mason’s strong play earned him a multi-year extension from Mr. Snider as the Flyers’ future starter, and they’ll need him to continue his strong play to make the playoffs.
Dustin Brown, RW, LA – This isn’t the first time the Kings captain has invaded this writing space, but his lack of production all year has been hard to ignore. Brown has just 10 goals and 16 points on the season, and over the past 14 days has not registered a single point and minus-7 over that span. When Brown isn’t scoring or collecting penalty minutes, he’s worthless in fantasy and has been one of the biggest disappointments of the 2013-14 season. Perhaps playing on a team with more scoring talent like Team USA will wake up his game, but that’s optimistic.
Daniel Sedin, LW, VAN – The former NHL scoring champion has not scored a single goal in 2014 so far, a span of 18 games. With the Canucks suffering a slew of injuries, Sedin hasn’t been able to help carry the team, and they’re slipping out of the playoff picture. Even with twin brother Henrik in the lineup, Daniel just hasn’t looked dangerous all year. His shooting percentage is a shade under seven percent, much lower than the league average, and he’s scored just 13 times all season. The Swedes didn’t perform well in 2010, and if they want to earn a medal they’ll need to get one of their top left wingers going.
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MTL – If there was a second coming of Brad Marchand, an ultimate super-pest who can score as often as he yaps, it’s Gallagher. A product of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, Gallagher embodies the highly aggressive, blue-collar style Giants head coach Don Hay likes to play. When Gallagher isn’t scoring -- of which he’s done a fair amount this year with 14 goals (one more than Sedin) and 30 points – he’s busy involving himself in the game in other ways. It’s rare to see Gallagher go a night without collecting a few shots on net, penalty minutes, or new enemies. With Alex Galchenyuk set to return after the Olympic break, Gallagher could contribute even more offensively.