Yesterday, we broke down Group A of the Olympic hockey tournament. Today, it’s Group B, consisting of Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Latvia.
With all due respect to the host team, the offensive potency of the Russian team is unparalleled. Consider this: They could theoretically send out a power play line of Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Alexander Semin, throw Alex Ovechkin back at the point, and still have Pavel Datsyuk left over for the second unit. (Like the Canadians, though, they may find themselves playing guys out of their natural positions if they’re to assemble such dream lines.) Even with the smaller rink — and it’s not like the aforementioned players have had any trouble scoring on such a rink in the NHL — offense should not be a concern for the Russians. They’re set in goal, too: Evgeni Nabokov currently ranks fourth in the NHL in save percentage, and fifth in goals against average. The weakness here is the defense. We watched enough of Fedor Tyutin while he was with the Rangers to know he’s a serviceable, but not elite, defenseman. And we watched enough of Dimitri Kalinin when he was with the Rangers to know he can be a downright liability.
Speaking of former Rangers, won’t it be nice to see Jaromir Jagr again for a couple of weeks, when he skates for the Czech Republic team? Jagr’s only made headlines twice here in the States since leaving to play in the KHL: Under tragic circumstances when teammate (and Ranger prospect) Alexei Cherepanov collapsed and died during a game, and under awesome circumstances when he dropped the gloves in a massive brawl last month. (It’s maybe three times if you count this — Team Jagr!) Team captain Patrick Elias is a go-to player, though one wonders if — having returned just last weekend from a concussion injury — he’ll be subconsciously wary of getting hit while away from the Devils.
The presence of Slovakia alongside the Russians and Czechs makes Group B the deepest of the three in the tournament. Their roster is dotted with NHL superstars — Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, and assuming he’s healthy, Marian Gaborik — and is deep with familiar names from the European leagues: the likes of Jozef Stumpel, Richard Zednik, and Zigmund Palffy (though unfortunately, not Zigmund Palffy’s mullet).
Rounding out the group is Latvia, and the only thing you need to know about the Latvian squad is that one of its members (Arvids Rekis) plays on a German team called the Grizzly Adams, which is every single kind of awesome.