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Sochi Ball Pt. 2: Groups B And C

Let’s keep rolling along with our Olympic Preview.

Group B

Austria – You’re gonna have a lot of fun saying, “Unterluggaur” while Thomas Vanek is amazed he can play for a team worse than the Islanders.

Canada – As always with them, they’re absolutely loaded. PK Subban might not even play. That’s how richly talented they are. You can try and poke holes in them, but there really just aren’t any. Patrice Bergeron is a fourth-line wing on this squad, and he’s the best two-way player in the game.

Those hoping for a hilarious crash and burn will look in goal. Roberto Luongo has been pretty good even while the Canucks have completely collapsed around him, and his mental deficiencies we all used to laugh at really haven’t popped up in a while. Because they haven’t had a chance. He was pulled mid-series vs. both the Kings and Sharks the past two springs even though he actually played really well. But we know if Canada loses it’ll be his fault. And really, what do you have to do behind this defense? Even if he slips, Carey Price is hardly a drop off a cliff.

If Canada stumbles, it’ll be because they run up against a galactic goaltending performance, which is what happened in ’98 and ’06. It’ll be Rask or Lundqvist or Miller or maybe even Hiller standing on his dick and conjuring up the dark arts. Other than that, this team should sneeze up four to five goals per game.

Prediction: They’re going to wallop this group, which should see them get an easy quarterfinal draw, and then from there it’s just about not getting Rask-ed. Gold Medal Game I’m thinking.

Finland – It’s hard to gloss over the loss of both Koivus and Filppula, because now they really have nothing down the middle. Barkov, Granlund, Jussi Jokinen and Olli Jokinen aren’t bad exactly, but it’s not Crosby-Toews-Getzlaf. It’s not even Kesler-Pavelski-Stastny.

Combine that with a blue line that’s a little questionable, and maybe the Finns have issues. Olli Maata is fantastic but only 19, Sami Vatanen has trouble cracking the NHL roster in Anaheim, and Sami Salo is a fucking ent. Kimo Timonen? Yeah, I’m afraid not.

All of that puts it on the Finnish goaltending. Luckily for them, it’s the best in the world. Either Tuukka Rask or Antti Niemi can carry a team for two weeks, though Rask will likely be the starter. And they’re going to have to do some work because when running up against Canada and other big squads they’re going to see a lot of speeding rubber.

Prediction: If Rask gets hot they could go anywhere, but that defense and lack of firepower screams something of a shock quarterfinal exit. But no one will be lining up to face this goaltending.


Group C

Czech Republic – This squad is already under fire for some roster decisions, with Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler were left home and now Ondrej Pavelec (who is legitimately terrible) is going to be a scratch for the opener against Sweden tomorrow in favor of Jakub Koval who plays in the KHL.

I can almost assure you the Czechs are going to be an utter bore to watch. With an immobile though serviceable defense, they’re not going to be adventurous at all. Only Marek Zidlicky can like, move. Smid, Rozsival, Kaberle, Michalek, and Gudas can play defense but don’t want to get caught up ice or facing odd-man rushes. Expect them to play it very close to the vest.

Up front, Plekanec and Krejci and Hanzal is not the worst 1-2-3 down the middle you’ll see. Jaromir Jagr can come up with something on the bigger surface where he’ll have more time and won’t have to work that hard to get space. Ales Hemsky has become a better two-way player now than he gets credit for and can do some of the same offensive stuff that Jagr can. Michalek, Palat, Voracek, Frolik, there’s actually more depth here than you first realize, though why they couldn’t use Hudler is a mystery. Sobotka’s injury hurts too.

Prediction: Boring but solid, but probably snuff it in the quarters because you don’t really feel like this goaltending can hold up.

Sweden – This is the team I’d really like to pick to win it, though the injury problems are an issue. But this blue line is as close to a match to Canada’s as you’ll find. Erik Karlsson-Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the top pairing, with our Chicago-based Swedes the second, Ericsson-Kronwall on the 3rd and if none of that works Alex Edler can elbow someone. That’s all in front of Henrik Lundqvist, whose game has really turned up recently as the Rangers have caught fire. That’s a formidable fort to break down to score.

Up front? I don’t know how much Henrik Sedin’s injury damages this team. The Sedins aren’t quite the Sedins any more, and Daniel’s been terrible with or without his brother all season. The forward group here is more graft than craft. There’s Zetterberg and whatever you think he is these days. Gabe Landeskog and Niklas Backstrom are your other supremely talented forwards, though Landeskog can be deployed on a checking line as well. But other than that you’ve got Kruger, Hagelin, Steen (don’t care what his goal total is thanks to an insane SH%), Berglund, Eriksson (who hasn’t been scoring in Boston), Nyquist and a couple others. All of them seem more foot-soldier.

Which means the Swedes could have a whole team playing a lock down game and be impossible to create anything against, and have just enough talent to pick their spots when opportunity arises. They certainly will be a very tough out.

Prediction: If Lundqvist is playing well, they could go all the way. Gonna settle for Bronze game against the US, I think.

Switzerland – The up and coming nation, finishing second at last year’s World Championship and being a true nuisance to both the US and Canada in this past World Junior.

Most of Switzerland’s hopes to do anything rest on Jonas Hiller, who can carry a team for a few games and was pretty excellent in the last Olympics. Hiller’s been pretty good this season, but 2009 Hiller dragging the Ducks to a Game 7 against Detroit by their johnson is pretty far in the rearview. I don’t know if he’s that guy any more.

The Swiss will pack it in and make it hard to score, but they’ll lose 3-1 to the first big team they see in the 2nd round.

Latvia – Zemgus! Zemgus! Zemgus! And that’s about it…

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