The U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team opens play against Slovakia Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. Team USA is looking to improve on its silver medal finish in 2010 and it will need a good start against a Slovakian side that isn’t as deep, but one that is not to be underestimated.
It should be a good test for both teams to start the Olympics as most players are still gaining that familiarity with new teammates and getting their legs under them. Expect some sloppiness out the gates, but things should get better as the game progresses.
The U.S. will go with Jonathan Quick in net, as announced by Dan Bylsma Wednesday. Ryan Miller will be backing up. I had previously penned a column saying I’d lean to giving the job to Miller, but Bylsma has not yet confirmed the net will be Quick’s when Team USA meets Russia in the second game of the preliminary round. So it’ll be interesting to see how that I all plays out. The U.S. has a good problem to have in net with three guys that are capable.
USA Hockey already released the preliminary lines for the opener against the Slovakians and they look somewhat similar to what was utilized in practices earlier this week, with a few subtle differences.
Zach Parise – David Backes – Ryan Callahan
Dustin Brown – Ryan Kesler – Patrick Kane
James van Riemsdyk – Joe Pavelski – Phil Kessel
Max Pacioretty – Paul Stastny – T.J. Oshie
Cam Fowler – John Carlson
Ryan Suter – Paul Martin
Ryan McDonagh – Kevin Shattenkirk
Scratched: Justin Faulk, Derek Stepan and Jimmy Howard
– First off, don’t get caught up with Line 1, 2, 3, 4. I don’t think the usage is going to correlate very much to the order in which they’re labeled on the line chart. Same with the D pairs as Ryan Suter obviously isn’t playing second-pairing minutes. So take a deep breath on that. Also, don’t expect these lines to be set in stone at any point.
– Secondly, these lines are a bit of a mix and match from the two days of practice. The only trio that were together both days the U.S. was on the ice is the van Riemsdyk-Pavelski-Kessel line. Among the three of them, no other line in the tournament has as many goals when it comes to NHL play this season. They will need to score early and often for the U.S. as Bylsma has gone with a more balanced lineup with scoring throughout. This line is by far the most loaded for offense, though.
– The line of Brown-Kesler-Kane was a good one at the 2010 Olympics and it’s worth trying it out in the first game to see if any of that carried over. Any way you can get some familiarity is a good thing. I don’t anticipate the lines on Day 1 will stay the same throughout.
– The listed top line of Parise-Backes-Callahan is probably your de facto energy line. They will probably see the opposing team’s top line. I believe Slovakia is the home team for this game, so they get last change, but we’ll see how much this line sees Marian Hossa. My guess is as much as possible.
– The “fourth” line with Pacioretty-Stastny-Oshie may not end up getting the same ice time as the others, but I fully expect them to see them play a good deal in the first game. As I mentioned before, Pacioretty and Stastny were actually quite lethal together at the World Championship in 2012. We’ll see if that leads to anything. I also wonder how long Oshie will stay separated from Backes. Wheeler as an extra forward can probably slot in a lot of different places if the team needs some offensive spark.
– The defense is ordered interestingly, but you have to expect to see Suter out there a whole bunch and having him with Martin gives the U.S. a very strong shutdown pair, if they do play much together.
– I do think Brooks Orpik will be utilized as a true seventh defenseman, which is to say he probably doesn’t play a ton, but could spell Suter a bit or take over if any of the younger guys falter a bit.
– Cam Fowler and John Carlson played together some at the World Junior Championship in 2010, which was a while ago and a different level, but there’s some familiarity. Expect Fowler to see time on the power play if given the opportunity. Same goes for Shattenkirk and Suter, with an outside chance of Carlson getting some reps.
– The scratches were fairly unsurprising. Howard was not going to play over Miller or Quick. Since Faulk wasn’t getting reps on the power play, I figured between him and Fowler, the slightly older Fowler would get the nod. I do think we’ll see Faulk at some point in this tournament though. Stepan is here as an extra center and could see time at some point, but I have a feeling he won’t play a ton as long as the other four centers are healthy. He’s a nice backup plan, though.
– When it comes to the goalie decision, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the last month and have consulted friends in the goalie coaching community as well as just other general hockey folk whose opinion I trust. I leaned Miller, many of them leaned Quick and one opinion I heard recently about starting Quick in Game 1 makes a lot of sense.
You’ve seen him steal games in the playoffs and under the highest pressure, he’s been excellent. That experience is more recent than Miller’s 2010 Olympics.
Additionally, you go to Quick knowing that he’s never played a minute of international hockey up to that point. Believe it or not, Thursday morning will be his first game in a USA jersey. He never dressed at the 2010 Olympics. Bylsma gets a really good idea of what he has in Quick right away. If he falters, then they can give Miller a go and they know what they’re getting.
If it was the opposite and Miller had a bad game against Slovakia, it makes playing Quick a little riskier against Russia. I don’t think, as good as he has been in pressure games, you would want his first international game to be against the host country at the Olympics. Just a thought.
So, after convincing myself Miller was the right choice, I see the logic in going with Quick particularly for Game 1. Miller very well could go against Russia, but Bylsma has to see what he’s dealing with in Quick. It opens up his options this way and that’s always a good thing.
Most of the post-game coverage from me will be dedicated to CBSSports.com, but I will be bringing other content here as well, hopefully some of the stuff you won’t find anywhere else.
Here’s other preview content:
Infographic: College Hockey’s Impact on the 2014 Olympics
Statistics: Team USA’s NHL stats heading into the Olympics, broken down by full season and since the team was named.