The World Cup of Hockey Group A - Overview and Predictions
The World cup of Hockey starts tomorrow and kicks off hockey season. Like many my first reactions is YAY hockey is on again. This gives us the chance to see many of our NHL players competing for their respective countries. This is a fun exhibition because like in the Olympics, these are most of the players who were deemed to be the best of the best from last season. We also get to see players teamed up who are often on opposite sides of the ice, allowing players to demonstrate their talent even when separated from their usual line mates.
Unsurprisingly Canada is a favorite to win the tournament, especially given their consistent high level of performance in international competitions historically. One of team Canada's key strengths is the depth of their line. On the offensive line we have Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche who is known for his speed on the ice and scored 30 goals for Colorado last season, Jonathan Toews of the Chicgao Blackhawks, who has historically played very well under high pressure situations, and Joe Thornton, of the San Jose Sharks who tied for 4th in the NHL in scoring last season with 82 points during the regular season. Their defensive line is also impressive and expected to perform well. it includes Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings who had 4 goals and 6 points for team Canada in the Sochi Olympics, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, who logged more minutes on the ice than any other Canadian during the last Olympics, and Brett Burns of the San Jose Sharks, who has scored more goals than any other defender over the past 2 seasons. That being said however there is the concern that injuries for several of the players on the original roster may cause them some issues. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Carter, and Duncan Keith have all withdrawn from the tournament due to various injuries. Even with those unfortunate losses though Team Canada is still a strong, fast and formidable team who will be tough to beat.
Though not the favorite to win I will still be looking for team USA to perform well in the World Cup. They have taken the silver or bronze medal in most of our international competitons in the last 10 years. Current predictions show team USA likely taking the either 2nd or 3rd in this years World Cup. Many of the players on this World Cup team played together on their last Olympic team. As such they have experience playing together and have performed well under pressure on the world stage. Team USA has put together a strong offence which includes among others 2 time Olympian Ryan Kessler of the Anaheim Ducks, Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens who has a plus 38 rating ans scored 76 goals during the past 2 seasons, and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks who had 27 goals and 64 points in 61 regular season games last season. Their defensive lines are also very good and include Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets who had 18 goals and 45 points in 69 games last season, and John Carlson of the Washington Capitols who tied for 5th in points and 4th in assists among NHL defensemen last season. However if team USA is to succeed one of the the most important factors is to have more effective goal tending than they have had in past international competitions. As the starting goalie Jonathan Quick, of the Los Angeles Kings who had a save percentage last season of 0.918. Quick bears a great deal of pressure to perform as the elite goalie he can be, but of team USA's 3 goalies he has the most experience in high pressure situations and in international competitions. Most of the experts agree the Quick is the best choice of starting goalie, but he has two other talented and experienced goalies backing him up in Corey Schneider of the New Jersey Devils who had a save percentage last season of 0.924, and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning who had a save percentage last season of 0.926.
The Czech-Republic has not been thought to be a strong contender to win the World Cup. In fact right now they are predicted to end the tournament in last place. Despite this belief they have put together a fairly good team , which managed to defeat both Russia and team North America in recent exhibition games. Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers is expected to be one of their key offensive players during the tournament. He was a great asset to the flyers last season scoring 55 points in 73 games. Another key player for the Czech-Republic will be David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins. Pastrnak had 26 points in 56 games last season and had an assist in 3 recent exhibition games. The Czech teams biggest weakness is their defensive depth. On the whole their defensive lines are fairly inexperienced when compared toe the other teams in the tournament, and there is concern that this will cause the Czech team problems when playing at even strength.
Team Europe has put together a strong team with a number of names you will recognize. Despite this fact current predictions have them ending the tournament in about 6th place. Team Europe will face off against Team USA on Saturday. While USA is favored to win this contest team Europe's win over Sweden in a recent exhibition game has given them confidence in their teams abilities. Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak of team Europe, though not expected to have as strong a performance as some of the other goalies in this tournament stopped 34 of 36 shots in the recent game against Sweden and believes he can do as well against team USA tomorrow. Other key players for team Europe are Anze Kopitar and Marion Gaborik of the Los Angeles Kings, also Marrion Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks and Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers who all give a strong and fast offence to team Europe. For Defense they have a strong pairing in Zdeno Charra of the Boston Bruins, and Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Team Europe while not a popular favorite to win the tournament certainly has a very strong and talented team who should not be counted out.