As we all collectively come down off that Olympic hockey high from the weekend, and while I don’t think many of us can handle that nerve-rack derived euphoric state for a sustained period of time, there are four things happening this week that Blues and NHL fans should be getting jazzed up about after your Monday hockey hangover.
4. Tarasenko & Russia face Norway at 7:30 am Wednesday morning
If the Russians want to prove their dominance to the hockey world and earn a potential medal rematch against TJ Oshie and the Americans, they first have to get through a battle versus Mats Zuccarello and the rest of the Norwegian vikings. Although Norway has yet to win a game, don’t be surprised if they’re able to keep this a one-goal-game heading into the third period against the hostests with the mostests. The Russians have yet to start a contest with the intensity, speed and fire power that was so well advertised before the Games began. With guys like Datsyuk and Ovechkin, there isn’t much press, or ice time for that matter, left over for the 9th and 10th forwards, but those are the guys that will win this game for mother Russia. Guys like 18-year-old Dallas Star, Valeri Nichushkin, and St Louis Blues electrifying forward, Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko has a world-class explosive stride, accompanied with a pair of hands and the release of a shot that draws parallels to home boys like Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov. If Russia wants to win, and keep winning, they have to get all four lines rolling on offense, like Canada and the US have done. If not, there could be a party in the streets of Oslo by middag tomorrow.
3. Halak rides the Pine Pony in Slovakia’s elimination game against Czech Republic
This is would have been a significant game for Blues fans and Halak critics all over, but unfortunately Blues goalie, Jaroslav Halak, will be watching this contest from the bench as Slovakia faces off against the Czechs Tuesday, 2/18, at noon est. Halak brought his D+ game to Sochi, letting up 5 goals on 25 shots against the Americans, and then allowing the Slovenians a chance to win their first Olympic hockey game, ever. Halak, the Slovakian coaching staff and fans knew that this was not Jaro’s tournament. Instead, no-name Jan Laco will get his second straight start, and attempt to shut down potent Czech scorers like Jaromir Jagr and David Krejci. Maybe the effects of observing the game with a baseball hat on will motivate Halak to retune his focus and drive his desire to stay in the starting lineup for the next tournament come late-April in St Louis.
2. Steen and the Swedes get a major leg up after taking the top spot in Prelims
While there is no doubt that Sweden has played some dominant hockey over the past week, and honestly earned their #1 seed after the first three games, they are getting a major gift from the hockey gods in the re-seedings after the elimination rounds. Instead of taking on potential opponents in the do-or-die stages of the Olympics like the Czechs, Russians or even the surprising Swiss, Sweden will face the winner of the Austria vs. Slovenia game taking place on Tuesday. Not to take anything away from the Austrians or the Seahaw–I mean Slovenians (what’s with jerseys?) but Sweden should have no problem dismantling which ever nation they face at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, local St Louis time. With Patrik Berglund taking on the role as the starting center ice man in absence of team captain, Henrik Zetterberg, he and Blues teammate, Alex Steen, will have a chance to build some scoring momentum before they head off to face Russia or Finland in the semi-finals.
1. USA vs Canada match up set for Friday and winner heads to Gold medal game (maybe)
I hope you didn’t heed my advice in an article I wrote last week that encouraged a bit of hookey to be played in order to catch the opening games of the Olympic tournament. Now I usually don’t go back on my advice, but when I advised a ‘personal’ day was necessary last Thursday, I am realizing that it may have a been quite short-sighted. The reason is not because I’m a supporter of workplace productivity or creating a positive, honest reputation around the office, the reason is you cannot be at work this Friday with the potential of a Canada versus US battle looming. In the mean time, both teams have to win their games at 12 pm est on Wednesday, but a victory for the US over the winner of Czech vs Slovakia feels a near certainty considering the type of momentum wave Oshie and the gang will be surfing in on. And Canada, who will face the winner of Switzerland vs Latvia, so Switzerland, will have to show their ability to put pucks in the net from the start of the game to the final whistle; which may be easier said than done against Swiss (and Anaheim Ducks) net minder, Jonas Hiller. But assuming all goes according to Jim and plan, Canada is on a collision course to once again be a block in the Americans’ Golden dreams. Imagine cracking that first Molson, or Bud Light, for a Friday matinée, and watching American’s Kevin Shattenkirk, TJ Oshie and David Backes square off against Canadian defenders in Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester in a game not only with Gold medal implications, but a game that would give a few of the five Blues infinite bragging rights over their teammates during the other 50 weeks of the year.
Gets my motor running just thinking about it.
Stay up to date with all the Olympic hockey action, and be sure to check in daily at BleedinBlue.com to get previews, recaps and all the scoop on everything Blues hockey in Sochi.