Olympic Hockey Power Rankings: United States on top
After an undefeated group play, the United States is on top of the Olympic hockey power rankings.
Group play is finished at the Olympic Hockey tournament and now the real tournament starts. Four teams have earned byes into the quarterfinals while the remaining eight teams play four elimination games on Tuesday to get the knockout phase of the tournament started.
There's no doubt that T.J. Oshie put on the best individual performance in the first three games scoring on four of six shootout attempts to lead the United States to a victory over Russia and help clinch the Group A win.
After a preliminary round that had its share of great performances and some surprises, here's how we think the teams stack up going into the elimination stage of the tournament.
1. United States
The U.S. has been firing pretty well in all facets of the game. The defense and goaltending have been keys to their success, but the scoring talent up front is what could carry them to a deep run.
Sweden played in the easiest group out of the three with its toughest test coming against a tough Switzerland team. The Swedes will ride Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist all the way through the rest of the tournament.
Despite the fact that Canada’s not scoring at a clip expected, they have been dominant in posession in the tournament and goaltending has been just fine so far. The forwards haven’t quite figured out the trap teams are employing against them, but when they do, look out. The defense has also been world-class.
The good news is that the Swiss have had the best defense in the tournament so far. The bad news is they've had the worst offense only scoring two goals while allowing one in three games so far. If Switzerland can beat Latvia in the qualification round, it will give Canada a tough test.
As Finland proved against Canada, a commitment to team defense will be a great equalizer for them. They have enough skill to take advantage of the few opportunities they can generate, but it’s that commitment to protecting their own zone that makes them a worrisome matchup.
If we're being honest, the Russians have been a bit of a disappointment so far. It was one thing to lose in a shootout to the Americans (and T.J. Oshie) but needing shootout to beat Slovakia is troubling. The pressure is only going to get bigger in the knockout portion of the tournament.
7. Czech Republic
Despite finishing 1-2 in the preliminary round, this is a very experienced hockey club. There is a concern about their ability to score, but they have a chance to break the slump against rival Slovakia in the qualifier.
Austria picked up its first win in an upset over Norway to finish out group play. On a team with few NHL players, they've played a good tournament and it wouldn't be surprising to see New York Islanders teammates Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek lead the Austrians to a win over Slovenia in qualification round.
Entering the tournament, Slovenia was thought to be the weakest of the 12 teams in Sochi by a wide margin, but that's clearly not the case with the small nation of just 2 million people beating Slovakia in the group stage.
They might not have won a game in the preliminary round, but it seemed like Latvia was always in it. Latvia’s a scrappy bunch and if they get good enough goaltending, they have some players that can score.
Losing to the United States and Russia can be forgiven, but getting vastly outplayed by Slovenia is another. Led by NHL superstars Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa, there's no lack of talent on this team. The tournament starts anew for Slovakia, though, and they could pull off an upset of rival Czech Republic to get a rematch with the United States.
The Norwegians started off by giving Canada a really tough game, but a rather surprising loss to Austria to finish the preliminary round winless is awfully disappointing for a team that seemed to have the goods to at least compete. With Russia looming in the qualifier, it’s going to be tough for Norway to skate out of Sochi with any wins.
With the playoff field cut in half, the stakes keep getting raised
Green has led Vancouver's AHL affiliate since 2013
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