“What the hell happened?”: 2010 Winter Olympic Hockey ‘Playoff’ Predictions

The American’s are again underdogs, and again render a nation, the host nation at that, frozen. With the 5-3 victory yesterday over Canada, and with Sweden defeating Finland 3-0, Team U.S.A. gains the top seed going into the tournament style playoff rounds beginning on Tuesday. The anticipation to begin the Olympics was either Canada over Russia, or Russia over Canada, in what would have proven to be a star studded shootout of a gold medal game. This anticipation, however, has dwindled in the wake of a surprisingly weak Canadian offense.

The playoff picture, before the Quarterfinals, is as follows, and holds no place for explanation, though do not disregard what will be worth watching in these games: Switzerland will play Belarus, and the Swiss will win and advance into the Quarterfinals to face the U.S. The Swiss have been the only team to immerge from the five without an NHL majority, and they have done so without their Canadian killer, Martin Gerber. Jonah Hiller will remain strong, however give just enough to allow for an inevitable U.S. victory. The Americans, right now, are riding way too high to let Streit and his boys show them up, but anticipate a watchable match up none the less. Next, the Czech Republic will defeat Latvia and advance into the QF’s to face Finland. Latvia was and remains the weakest team in this tournament, and the Czech’s has something to prove, and will only get stronger. Finland proved last night to have a surprisingly weak offense, and though they can skate, and play a fairly solid, boring, team defense, they will not be able to score enough to emerge victorious. In any other Grouping, they would have finished third, rather than second, earning a bye. That being said, once Jagr gets his sight back, after Ovechkin’s “best player in the NHL” performance blindsided them, and with Elias and Havlat playing like leaders, rather than weathered veterans, around focused and smart youngsters like Plekanec and Krejci, I anticipate the Czech Republic coasting all the way to the Gold medal game. (I underestimated their utilization of Tomas Vokoun and I underestimated the play of their veterans, but will not overestimate their Gold medal chances.) To continue on, Slovakia will defeat Norway and advance on to play Sweden. This is no surprise, despite the “worthy of a watch” play by two virtual unknowns from Norway, Tore Vikingstad and Mats Aasen Zuccarello. I do not see Slovakia going any further, however, because as I predicted before and as it remains, Slovakia is without a big time goalie. Sweden will make quick work of the Slovak’s, as no offensive threat, (Hossa, Gaborik, Demitra) has stepped up to the plate as a leader.

Finally we arrive at the Canada versus Germany, pre-quarter final game. Canada will defeat Germany. Germany holds no threat to victory, and the only reason it will be worth watching is to see Canada in what may be their most dominant Olympic moment this year. Upon victory, Canada sees only Russia in their future, and we as fans see only disappointment. Let it be known throughout all of hockey fandom, that there was no prediction, written, spoken or imagined in which either Canada or Russia would go without a medal. This will in fact come true, on Wednesday, Feb 24th @ 7:30 EST. We have the Americans to blame for this. With that being said, the analysis of this epic, blue-ball fantasy of a game, is actually an easy one to make for me, seeing as it was my intention of having these two teams meet at least once. Russia has goaltending, and so does Canada. Russia has offense, speed and finesse, and so does Canada. Russia has defense, team defense, three-zone offense, and an unparalleled physical game rarely seen in International play, and Canada, does not. Physical play will be the deciding factor, and just as it is increasingly true that Ovechkin can match Crosby in every offensive category yet smoke him in every other facet to the game imperative to being a strong defensive as well as offensive force, it is true that Russia will disappoint the host nation in its early victory over Canada. Allow me to reiterate, I believe Canada has extremely hot nuts over the shear embarrassment of the all star offense, not being able to finish strong against either the Swiss or the U.S. I also feel like they will bust way to early, and Germany will take the brunt of most of this shame. Take Canada’s play in the final two minutes of last night’s game however, and multiply it by 30. Play that way in the entire game, and you cannot be touched, even by Russia. They have proven however, to be too cordial to one another, not physical by any stretch of the hockey imagination, and will get man handled by a Russian team which is out for blood. I can only envision the win against the Czech’s as a rivalry game for Russia, but if they are looking at the Playoff bracket the same way I am, they see the Czech’s coasting with ease into that Gold medal game. That being said, and for nearly the same exact reasons of strong offense and physical defense versus a simple minded pass and shoot game from Sweden, I see the Russian Federation’s easy advancement to face the Czech’s in the Gold Medal game.

The Bronze Medal Game. I have chewed my words enough over this American team however, let another fact be known through this “predication” and “opinionated analysis”; it is my strong, and consistent opinion that this particular collection of American hockey players remains TOO YOUNG and TOO SLOPPY (based on a predicted lack of chemistry) to continue on its quest filled with “miraculous” luck and false hope. Do not get me wrong, however, they have gone above and beyond anyone’s expectations, and Ryan Miller’s return from his slump, came just in time to take on what proved to be an extremely competitive Swiss lineup. I see our boys from the States, however, being taken out, and if by no fault of their own, by simply being outplayed by the Swedes.  I believe Sweden will defeat Slovakia by outplaying them defensively; however I see Sweden’s inability to shake things up physically as an imminent loss to Russia, however I do not see the far superior experience of consistent chemistry faltering in defeating the U.S. for the Bronze Medal. (…should have played Thomas…)

The Gold Medal game will be a rematch of yesterday’s most physical display; Russia vs. country rivals, The Czech Republic. The apples to apples matchup yields Russia victorious in four of what I consider six imperative categories. Russia has a more talented and proven defensive core, a better goaltender in Evgeni Nabakov and speed. I feel they will match in their special teams abilities and surprisingly, their physical play. I do not see the Czech’s backing down again, like they did yesterday. They have the tools to compete physically. The last category goes to the Czech Republic, and as a Boston fan, I see it day in and day out from David Krejci. The Czech’s will counter the Russian speed with patience. Look for this to be a factor on offense and in special teams, given they get enough power play time to set up and deliver. This comparison aside, I feel Russia will still prevail, and will win the gold on the backs of their youth, not their experience, nor born-in chemistry. I feel Ovechkin and Malkin have proven to be just as strong and dominant through Olympic play, and a Gold Medal should prove to be no surprise.

(Sunday, Feb. 28th, 3:15PM EST…Save the date…)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: