Olympic Hockey Sunday Preview and Open Thread

A great day of Olympic hockey lies ahead. I for one will be in the recliner with donuts and nachos within reach. 29164018_medium

Here is a preview of the games for today, and then feel free to use this as your open thread for all games today. (Previews courtesy of CTV.ca)

Russia v. Czech Republic

3 p.m. (EST)

The records: Russia (1-0-0-1). Czech Republic (2-0-0-0)

What's at stake: First place in the group and an automatic berth in the quarter-finals, which Russia can manage only with a three-point win in regulation, which would give it seven points and leave the Czechs with just six. Borrowing an expression from soccer, this was viewed as the Group Of Death because it included three traditional powers, none of whom like each other much, the Russians, Czechs and Slovaks. Slovakia threw a monkey wrench into the works by upsetting Russia in a shootout, which has opened the door for the Czechs to possibly go a perfect 3-0 and earn a top-three seed.

Who to watch: With a who's who of brilliant talent on display, who wouldn't you watch? But the chance to see a 38-year-old Jaromir Jagr, still capable of individual brilliance, is not to be missed, just in case this is his last hurrah. Jagr's counterpart with the Russians is Sergei Fedorov, who left the NHL last season to play in the KHL, but was one of the most decorated players of his generation and the first Russian player ever to win an NHL MVP award.

Canada v. USA

7:30 p.m. ET

The records: Canada 1-0-1-0, USA 2-0-0-0.

What's at stake: First place in the group and an automatic berth in the quarter-finals, top spot in the group and a chance to avoid the pitfalls of the new qualification round introduced by the IIHF for these Olympics. Canada trails the U.S. by a single point under the scoring system that awards three points for a regulation win, but only two for an overtime or shootout victory. But Canada can leapfrog the U.S., even by winning in extra time, because if both teams finish with seven points (a possibility), Canada would get the nod on the basis of its head-to-head record against the Americans.

Who to watch: For Canada, the greatest chemistry thus far has been demonstrated by the San Jose Sharks' trio of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Heatley may have alienated fans in Ottawa and Edmonton because of his wish to play elsewhere, but he does possess magic hands and an uncanny ability to help Canada at the international level. The Americans' most underrated player thus far has been David Backes of the St. Louis Blues, who adds a level of physical play to a club that is undersized compared to Canada. Backes appears to have the skill set to morph into the NHL's next dominating power forward.

Sweden vs. Finland

12 a.m. ET

The records: Sweden 2-0-0-0. Finland 2-0-0-0.

What's at stake: First place in the group and an automatic berth in the quarter-finals. The tournament schedule was set up so that any barring major upsets, the final games in the preliminary round would determine the group winners. This match-up followed the script, as both traditional Scandinavian rivals brushed off the opposition fairly easily to get to this point. Sweden won the last match-up between the two teams, which just happened to be the Olympic final in 2006.

Who to watch: The Finns' dynamic duo of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are both playing in the Olympics for the final time and would love nothing better to add a gold medal to silvers won in Turin and bronzes in Nagano. Sweden's Peter Forsberg was one of the NHL's dominant players of his generation and after making an unexpected comeback with his club team from eons ago, Modo, made the Olympic team and provides necessary leadership to a skilled team in the midst of a generational transition.