Road to the Gold (Predictions and Contest)
Note: Wanted to get this up ASAP so if there are any small errors I will come back and correct them a bit later.
With the Super Sunday of Hockey gone and the bracket set for the knock-out portion of the Olympic tournament, it's time to make some predictions and hold a little contest here for our loyal Blueshirt Banter readers. Before we get going though, I just have a few thoughts on what we've seen thus far in the tourney.
On the tournament in general: I think there has been some great hockey to watch no matter what the match-up. It is clear that in terms of game-speed and overall skating ability, almost all the teams are on a level playing field. I've decided that I'm going to make more of an effort to try and watch some KHL games when I can, because I want to see if the speed of their games are similar to the NHL. It is obvious though that if you keep it simple and play with your heart, almost anything can happen (looking at Switzerland and Norway).
On the USA: I've been extremely cautious with friends and relatives in making predictions and praising this group too high, mainly because I'm worried that one of these times after a bad stretch of play or a bad period they might not bounce back like they've been able to thus far. The talent level is there, but I think the key to USA playing well going forward is sustained offensive pressure. Last night against Canada the US was playing chip-and-go hockey hoping to catch Canada sleeping a couple of times. They did just that, but unfortunately you can't count on your opponent not playing well in order for you to win.
On Canada and the goaltending situation: Canada, to me, is a sleeping giant right now. They dominated their matchup with the USA and if their goaltender had showed up they probably deserved to win that game. Greg Wyshynski said it the best, that essentially its very hard to blame a goaltender that has been so successful as Brodeur, but in the end you have to live in the here and now. I personally would stick with Brodeur another game (on a short leash, obviously), seeing that he is a very fierce competitor, but it looks as though Luongo is in for Germany tomorrow.
On the Rangers at the Games: Hank has gotten the job done, Gabby has looked good but not great, while Drury and Callahan are playing well and doing their jobs. If this sparks Drury back into goal-scoring mode I will be very, very pleased with USA selecting him. In my opinion Olli Jokinen has probably played the best of all the Rangers. One Ranger prospect I have been impressed with is Andres Ambuhl. Every time I managed to watch a Swiss game you heard his name constantly with the puck or pressuring an opponent. His skating seems above-average and he has been willing to take the body all while sacrificing it to make the right play. I'll be watching for him against Belarus.
Follow through after the jump for my predictions on the tournament and to enter your predictions as well. Winner of the contest will receive a Blueshirt Banter T-Shirt courtesy of Jim!
Game 1: Switzerland v. Bealrus
The Swiss should handle this game as they have elevated their play against Canada and the US to a point many thought wasn't possible. Jonas Hiller should have an easier game and if he plays as well as he had the Swiss will walk on. I still plan on catching a bit of this game though because it should be a good paced game. Winner: Switzerland
Game 2: Czech Republic v. Latvia
Latvia is a bit better than Belarus in my opinion, but faces stiffer competition in the Czech's; who played very well against the Russians. I don't see the Czech's losing this, but I again will try to catch Jagr in action as always. Winner: Czech Republic
Game 3: Slovakia v. Norway
Slovakia has the wherewithal to medal while Norway has been unimpressive to say the least. It may be a game for a little, but as long as Slovakia doesn't come out slow, they got this one. Winner: Slovakia
Game 4: Canada v. Germany
I honestly think the Canadians are going to come out and absolutely pound the Germans. It's too bad, because I think Germany is a very under-rated team that has come a ways over the years. Their offense is slowly developing while their defense and goaltending leads the way. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Luongo shutout, though. Winner: Canada
Game 1: USA v. Switzerland
As it did in the prelim's, this matchup worries me. The Swiss are sneaky and play with a ton of heart, all while having a potential all-star goaltender backstop them. The USA will have to dominate to play once again to make sure the Swiss don't get away something they shouldn't, but I feel as though the Yanks can pull this out. Winner: USA
Game 2: Finland v. Czech Republic
This is one hell of a matchup; definitely on the calendar. Joni Pitkanen is out on suspension, which hurts the overall but one-extra day rested Finnish defense. I expect many to pick the Czech's in this one, but I think Kipursoff will come up big for his country. Winner: Finland
Game 3: Sweden v. Slovakia
Possible upset special here, as I think Sweden didn't play their first real game until last night against Finland (a 3-0 win). They took care of business against Germany (2-0) and Belarus (4-2), but the Slovak's are obviously built better than the two latter teams. If this game ends up going back and forth, it will be a barn-burner. I think Hank will end up being Hank, though. Winner: Sweden
Game 4: Russia v. Canada
If the planets align, this could be the game of the tournament before it's even over. I need not describe either team with a horrible cliché from my book, so I'm going straight to the prediction (like Jerry says in Seinfeld, treat it like a band-aid; RIGHT OFF!). Winner: Russia
Game 1: USA v. Finland
These predictions are getting harder and harder to make as I write. In my opinion the Fins are more talented offensively but their defense does not help at all when it comes to creating offense. Meanwhile, the USA has more NHL players, but play a more aggressive game when it comes to the back end, which kept Canada honest and in the end created some chances. I see this as a Miller/Kipursoff battle, which means I'm giving the Vezina-frontrunner the edge. Winner: USA
Game 2: Sweden v. Russia
The calm and creative Swede's versus the high-octane crazy Russians. Two contrasting styles, to say the least. For Sweden to win, Lundqvist will have to be huge all while keeping the pressure on the Russians in their own zone. For Russia to win, they will have to play positionally-sound hockey (especially in their own end), along with simply out-scoring the Swede's. A complete coin-flip if this matchup comes true. Winner: Russia
Game: USA v. Russia
I've been saying it to everyone I talk to, I'm thinking Sochi 2014 will be the Americans year. They have the potential to win it this year, as they have shown. But if they plan on taking gold then they will have to do it in a similar fashion that they beat Canada last night - which was not the prettiest win to say the least. Russia, meanwhile, will have to hope Nabakov plays as well as he has for the Sharks at some points this year, as he could be the difference at this point. Winner: Russia
So there you have it. Copy/Paste my shortened predictions below and submit yours for a chance to win some personal pride along with a Blueshirt Banter T-Shirt from Jim! (Note: Picks must be entered by 3 PM EST on Tuesday, February 23rd). NOTE: Tie Breaker #1 = Correctly guessing the Bronze Medal Game winner. Tie Breaker #2 = Closest guess to total goals in the Gold Medal Game.
Play-In 1: Switzerland v. Belarus: Switzerland
PI 2: Czech Republic v. Latvia: Czech Republic
PI 3: Slovakia v. Norway: Slovakia
PI 4: Canada v. Germany: Canada
QF 1: USA v. Switzerland: USA
QF 2: Finland v. Czech Republic: Finland
QF 3: Sweden v. Slovakia: Sweden
QF 4. Russia v. Canada: Russia
SF 1: USA v. Finland: USA
SF 2: Sweden v. Russia: Russia
Final: USA v. Russia: Russia
Bronze: Sweden v. Finland: Finland
Total Goals in Gold-Medal Game: 7