The United States and Canadian Olympic teams are the only two hockey teams in Vancouver comprised entirely of NHL players. That’s probably a big part of what made yesterday’s US victory over Canada such a fun game to watch. Except that when you think about it, we’re ALWAYS watching NHL vs. NHL games so it’s nothing we don’t see for 9 months out of the year. But still, most exciting game of the Olympics so far. This time around, all 30 teams have at least one player representing their home country. There’s a lot of great players spread out among these countries, so let’s see how the rest of the NHL is faring in Vancouver, shall we?
San Jose has 8 players in Vancouver, half of which are playing for Canada. The “Shark Line” of Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thornton has been fairly productive for Team Canada but the host team is struggling regardless. With 1/5 of Team Canada coming from the second best team in the NHL, you would think Canada would be doing better. Detroit and Anaheim are having a disappointing NHL season which can’t make Scott Niedermayer or Ryan Getzlaf very happy coupled with their country’s Olympic performances. Red Wings players Nicklas Kronwall and Niklas Lindtrom are finding success with the defending world champs, Sweden. In the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks are faring better, and goalie Roberto Luongo, playing for Canada, will likely see more action after New Jersey’s Marty Brodeur played a sub-par game against the USA resulting in a loss for Canada. As well, the Canucks’ anchor duo, twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, are providing the same support for Team Sweden.
Despite an abysmal NHL season so far, the Blue Jackets’ Fredrik Modin and Samuel Pahlsso have to feel better with Sweden’s performance. Jonas Gustavsson, coming from the Toronto and Johnny Oduya, who was traded to the Thrashers by New Jersey earlier this month, can’t be thrilled with their home teams’ standings (29th and 24th, respectively) but a strong Olympic performance from Sweden is probably helping to lessen that. Patrick Kane, the lone Blackhawk on Team USA, is in a great spot right now. The US just upset Canada in a big, big way and regardless of what happens in Vancouver, Kane will be returning to a team with a definitive grasp on the Central division and only 3 points behind Washington and 2 behind San Jose. It’s good to be Patrick Kane…cabbies of Vancouver, watch out. The Bruins and Devils each sent a goalie in their delegation, one to the US (Tim Thomas) and one to Canada (Marty Brodeur). Neither are doing great things. Rick Nash, first pick overall in 2002 by Columbus, is going to want to boost his self-confidence in Vancouver before heading home with Modin and Pahlsso to try and play out the rest of the season with their heads up.
Then there are the Russians. The Russian Olympic team boasts players from some of the NHL’s best teams: the Red Wings, Penguins, Capitals, Devils, and Sharks. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk was removed from centering Russia’s first line in favor of Evgeni Malkin which worked out fantastically for Russia but perhaps not so much for Datsyuk’s ego. It doesn’t matter though–the Russian team is so deep, their second line and third lines may as well be another country’s first. There is absolutely no shame playing between Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov. With talent like this, the Russians ought to be playing better and if they leave Vancouver with anything less than gold, it will be interesting to see whether that effects them positively or negatively for the remainder of this NHL season.
But the preliminaries are only just complete. The US, Sweden, Russia, and Finland all get a bye now, while the next eight will compete for the last 4 spots in the quarter-final. We’ll know tomorrow if Canada’s all-NHL team will go any further, and what that might say about the future of hockey in the US and overseas.