Winter Olympics 2014 Preview - USA men's hockey team

Harry How/Getty Images

The next country up to preview is the defending silver-medal Americans, who are led by captain Zach Parise

Roster

Goalies NHL Club
Jimmy Howard Detroit Red Wings
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres
Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings
Defensemen NHL Club
John Carlson Washington Capitals
Justin Faulk Carolina Hurricanes
Cam Fowler Anaheim Ducks
Paul Martin Pittsburgh Penguins
Ryan McDonagh New York Rangers
Brooks Orpik Pittsburgh Penguins
Kevin Shattenkirk St. Louis Blues
Ryan Suter Minnesota Wild
Forwards NHL Club
David Backes St. Louis Blues
Dustin Brown Los Angeles Kings
Ryan Callahan New York Rangers
Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan Kesler Vancouver Canucks
Phil Kessel Toronto Maple Leafs
T.J. Oshie St. Louis Blues
Max Pacioretty Montreal Canadiens
Zach Parise Minnesota Wild
Joe Pavelski San Jose Sharks
Paul Stastny Colorado Avalanche
Derek Stepan New York Rangers
James van Riemsdyk Toronto Maple Leafs
Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets

Strengths

The Americans bring likely their best team ever to Sochi, looking to build upon a silver-medal finish in Vancouver. Once again, this team will rely on goaltending to make up for a slight lack of star power compared to the likes of Canada and Russia. It will be interesting to see who starts in goal, although I'd bet on Ryan Miller, who has been sensational on a trainwreck Sabres team the past two years, over Jonathan Quick, whose save percentage is worse than Devan Dubnyk the past two years.

The US boasts possibly the best wingers in the world, and pairings like Patrick Kane and Zach Parise as well as Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk will be heavily relied upon for offense. They've also got the possibility for a couple of great shutdown lines, with guys like Ryan Kesler, David Backes, TJ Oshie, and Ryan Callahan all boasting the ability to play tough minutes while still contributing offense.

Weaknesses

The United States is severely lacking in depth down the middle, as Kesler or Joe Pavelski may become the first line centre by default, which means that their lines won't be as potent offensively but will at least have the capability to play at both ends of the ice.

The defense is also young and largely unproven. Outside of Ryan Suter, who may wind up playing close to 30 minutes a game, it's unclear who will step up. The American executives are hoping that one of the young d-men they selected becomes this tournament's Drew Doughty, stepping up from bubble status to elite performer. The Dan Bylsma factor means that both Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin were selected and will likely be the "shutdown pairing", which is worrying considering that Orpik is a very limited player, and on the big ice a lack of mobility can be a death sentence.

The decision not to take offensive threats like Bobby Ryan, Keith Yandle, or Dustin Byfuglien also leave the team with less scoring depth than many of its competitors. If the team struggles to score, there aren't a whole lot of backup options.

X Factor

One expects that the American goaltending will be great and that the forwards will do their part, but without Brian Rafalski anchoring the back end, the blue-line is the biggest question-mark. If Suter and Ryan McDonagh are the staples on the left side, my guess would be that a guy like Justin Faulk steps up and takes on big minutes on the right. If that happens, the US should once again be in the mix for gold. If it doesn't, in a one-game elimination tournament an early exit is not out of the question.

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