Having previously looked at the lineups of both North American hockey teams, it's only fair to size up the host nation for Sochi 2014, as well as the other nation with the best chance to succeed — Russia and Sweden, respectively. Each team is populated with stars, former Olympians and lots of utility talent from their nation's leagues, and both groups are more than capable of being in the final four. Still, questions linger about some lineup decisions, and certain factors could slow up these competitive hockey nations.
Without further ado, let's take a look at each squad.
Projected Lines / Depth Chart
Alexander Ovechkin | Evgeni Malkin | Alexander Radulov
Ilya Kovalchuk | Pavel Datsyuk | Valeri Nichushkin
Nikolai Kulemin | Alexei Tereshchenko | Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Popov | Artem Anisimov | Sergei Soin
Denis Kokarev | Viktor Tikhonov
Slava Voynov | Andrei Markov
Nikita Nikitin | Fedor Tyutin
Yevgeny Medvedev | Alexei Emelin
Anton Belov | Ilya Nikulin
Russia always ices a competitive squad, with a good mix of skill, sandpaper and experience. Most hockey pundits consider the Russian Super League to be the second-best league in the world, so the fact that the national team draws some talent from that pool is not to be scoffed at. Then again, with the crushing pressure to perform at home, it will be intriguing to see how this Russian squad handles the media scrutiny, nerves and self-doubt.
Up front, the team will get scoring firepower from obvious sources like Ovechkin, Malkin and Datsyuk, and it will be interesting to see how Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk, both former NHLers turned KHLers, gel with the lineup. Likely they'll do fine, as the international game seems more suited to their style. A lot of the team's depth at forward will rely on the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko and Nikolai Kulemin, but it will be bolstered by Russian League specialists Popov and Tereshchenko.
On the back end, the Russians have some decent defenders, but I don't know if they match up against the tougher Swedish, Canadian or American squads in that regard. Their group is massive, to be sure, as most of the d-men are about 220 pounds, which is crazy, but there is a big skill drop-off when you go beyond the likes of Markov (who is getting old), Tyutin and Voynov.
As for goaltending, the team is definitely a lot younger this year without Nabakov or Bryzgalov, but they should still be alright. I don't know if the goalies they have can truly match-up against the North American netminders, but they're good enough to bring them into the quarterfinals if they play to their ability.
I feel that the bottom four defenders are the biggest unknown for the Russian squad. I think they have great size and some ability, but the mix of youth and inexperience (at the Olympic level) could end up hurting them. I just don't feel that group can move the puck as well as Canada or Sweden. If they can get five or six of their d-men to elevate their play and knock off one of the elite teams early, it will be a sign that Russia is looking to do something special on home ice.
Who Got Snubbed?
The biggest snub, although somewhat understandable, is Alexander Semin. The skilled forward, who played so well alongside Alexander Ovechkin for years in Washington, has found himself on a lesser Carolina squad, and he's been battling injuries. He's still put up 20 points this year in reduced games, but maybe the brain trust of Russia didn't think his injuries and sporadic play were worth rewarding. Then again, in a tournament like this, you need all the help you can get, so leaving him on the sidelines still looks odd when he could've played.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov played in the last Olympics, but he didn't get called back this time. He was only used in one game for the Vancouver tournament, and he's been getting paddled repeatedly in net for the Edmonton Oilers this year. It makes sense, then, that Russia decided to go with an established Russian veteran for the third goalie spot, as Alexander Yeryomenko has only gotten better with age across the pond.
I think Russia will have too much pressure to get through their tough group (USA, Slovakia, Slovenia) unscathed. If their scoring dries up at all, it's going to be an awfully big microscope looking at their defense and young goaltending. I see them having to play a qualification game to get into the quarterfinals and maybe limping through. It will probably be somewhere between a sixth- and eighth-place finish for the Russians on home ice.
Projected Lines / Depth Chart
Daniel Sedin | Henrik Sedin | Loui Eriksson
Johan Franzén | Henrik Zetterberg | Daniel Alfredsson
Patrik Berglund | Nicklas Bäckström | Jakob Silfverberg
Alexander Steen | Marcus Krüger | Gabriel Landeskog
Jimmie Ericsson | Carl Hagelin
Erik Karlsson | Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Jonathan Ericsson | Alexander Edler
Niklas Kronwall | Johnny Oduya
Henrik Tallinder | Niklas Hjalmarsson
The Swedish team is looking to bounce back from a poor fifth-place finish in 2010, and they hope to channel their winning ways of a 2006 gold medal. The team has plenty of slick skill and elite players up front, namely the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, the Sedin twins, Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Bäckström, Johan Franzén and Loui Eriksson. There is a lot of youth on the team as well, including Silfverberg, Berglund and Swedish League player Marcus Krüger.
On defense, the team will rely on veterans like Henrik Tallinder and Niklas Kronwall to help shepherd the youngsters such as Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson. Established players like Alexander Edler and Johnny Oduya should provide a stability to the top four, and there's a lot of skill all throughout their eight defenders.
For goaltending, Sweden is in good hands with King Henrik (Lundqvist), who is still capable of great things at this level. He should be able to take the Swedes quite far, but Jonas Gustavsson would be adequate relief if something happened. I don't think Gustavsson or Enroth could really bring Sweden to the medal rounds, but they could certainly keep the team afloat.
The biggest unknown for the Swedes is that they're established stars are getting quite old, and some are even entering the tournament with injuries. Henrik Sedin, who looks likely to centre the first line for Sweden, is nursing a broken finger and some bruised/broken ribs, and it's questionable whether he'll be able to help the team as much as he could. Players like Daniel Alfredsson (42) are capable of some decent production, but when the going gets tough, where will he go? The same question could be asked of older players like Henrik Tallinder and Johan Franzén, who both are well into their 30s. If these veterans can hold up to the speed and emotion of this tournament, it will be a good sign for Sweden.
Who Got Snubbed?
There are no major snubs for the Swedish team, but there are certainly some players of note who didn't make the squad. On defense, players like Douglas Murray, Mattias Öhlund, Jonas Brodin and Victor Hedman were passed up in favor of more established players or younger skill guys. Hedman is definitely a bit of a surprise, but players like Murray or Öhlund are more logical, since they're either too old or don't fit the international style.
Young goaltender Robin Lehner has done great for Ottawa this year, but it seems that Enroth was the “young goalie” choice for Sweden. Some might be surprised that Gustavsson got picked, but his 11 wins for Detroit this year are evidence that he still belongs at the NHL level.
It's a bit of a surprise not seeing Patric Hornqvist from the Nashville Predators on the team, as he has 25 points this season and is a natural right-winger, but I guess this is another case of the Swedish team wanting to pair their truly established vets with the new breed of Swedish forwards.
I don't know if the Swedes will have the perfect mix up front for tons of goals, but the defense of this team is great, and Lundqvist will help get them into the later rounds. I feel that Sweden will play for a medal, and if players like Henrik Sedin and Alfredsson are good to go, they'll be playing for gold.