Winter Olympics 2014 Preview: Canadian men's hockey team

Bruce Bennett

As the reigning champions, the only option is to repeat or regress. The pressure is always on Canada to bring home gold, and this year is no exception, as the Canadians will look to upset the Russians on home soil.

Roster

NAME POSITION AGE LEAGUE TEAM
Sidney Crosby (C) C 26 NHL Pittsburgh Penguins
Chris Kunitz LW 34 NHL Pittsburgh Penguins
Jonathan Toews (A) C 25 NHL Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Sharp RW 32 NHL Chicago Blackhawks
Jeff Carter C/RW 29 NHL Los Angeles Kings
Patrick Marleau C/LW 34 NHL San Jose Sharks
Corey Perry RW 28 NHL Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Getzlaf C 28 NHL Anaheim Ducks
Patrice Bergeron C 28 NHL Boston Bruins
Rick Nash LW 29 NHL New York Rangers
Jamie Benn LW 24 NHL Dallas Stars
Matt Duchene C 23 NHL Colorado Avalanche
John Tavares C 23 NHL New York Islanders
Martin St. Louis RW 38 NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
P.K. Subban D 24 NHL Montreal Canadiens
Drew Doughty D 24 NHL Los Angeles Kings
Shea Weber (A) D 28 NHL Nashville Predators
Duncan Keith D 30 NHL Chicago Blackhawks
Alex Pietrangelo D 23 NHL St. Louis Blues
Jay Bouwmeester D 30 NHL St. Louis Blues
Dan Hamhuis D 31 NHL Vancouver Canucks
Marc-Edouard Vlasic D 26 NHL San Jose Sharks
Carey Price G 26 NHL Montreal Canadiens
Roberto Luongo G 34 NHL Vancouver Canucks
Mike Smith G 31 NHL Phoenix Coyotes

Strengths

Uh... Everything?

Okay not really, but kind of. Canada boasts the deepest team at the upcoming Winter Olympics and it's not even close. There are a few picks that raise eyebrows, but overall the Canadian team boasts a group of forwards that includes the best player in the world, who's one of seven returning forwards from the gold medal winning team in Vancouver.

Canada also boasts 5 Norris calibre defensemen in Subban, Keith, Doughty, Weber, and Pietrangelo, which is going to make scoring against them extremely difficult, and allow Canada to turn defense into offense extremely quickly. With the speed of guys like Crosby, Toews, Marleau, and Duchene, watch for Canada to be extraordinarily dangerous off the rush.

Weaknesses

If the Canadians have any weakness, it's the left side of the defense corps. Duncan Keith is world class, and while Vlasic, Hamhuis, and Bouwmeester are excellent NHL defensemen, their quality as Olympic level athletes is in serious question. Most likely other teams know this, and you will see them attempt their break ins on the left side more often than not.

The strength of the defensemen on the right side is likely to compensate for this, but there has to be a weakness somewhere.

A secondary worry for Canada could be the strength of their depth forwards, with Kunitz and Nash likely not being able to keep pace with the other guys on the team, but that's such a minor issue that it's difficult to list it as a major weakness.

With that said, Canada was dealt a major blow on February 5th when Steven Stamkos was ruled out of the tournament with lingering issues from his broken leg causing doctors to advise him not to play for his long term health. Stamkos happens to be the best pure goalscorer in the world, so it's a big blow for Canada, but replacing Stamkos with St. Louis is hardly a disaster.

X-Factor

The great trepidation for Canada always seems to be goaltending. In Vancouver, Martin Brodeur faltered badly, and although Roberto Luongo was there to pick up the slack, he was by no means a world beater, which has a lot of people nervous about Canada's goaltending. Luongo's struggles of late has started the hand wringing a little bit early.

Luckily for Canada, there's Carey Price. Arguably the best goaltender in the NHL this year, Price has been consistently superb behind a defense that leaves him out to dry more often than not. Price is a goaltender who has the ability to step up in big games, and has done so for Canada in the past, winning a gold medal and tournament MVP as a 19 year old in the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2007.

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