Winter Olympic hockey power rankings: Canada still on top of the world

Richard Lautens

SB Nation's bi-weekly power rankings in the run up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Who's on top? Who's trending up? Who's trending down?

Nation Trend Notes
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Carey Price and Roberto Luongo seem to have solidified the goaltending question, which means that the weakness of this team has shifted not to any particular part of the roster, but to the selection process. A recent special on CBC had the Canadian management group still considering players like Milan Lucic and Chris Kunitz, while still being skeptical of much better players like P.K. Subban and Tyler Seguin.
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With the time ticking down before the Olympics, should Sweden begin to worry about Henrik Lundqvist? Struggling early was written off as adjusting to the new smaller pads, however it's been 30 games now and King Henrik is stuck at a lowly .908 save percentage, the lowest mark in his career. Luckily for Sweden, the last time Lundqvist put up a save percentage that poor was the 2006 Winter Olympics, and they just happened to win gold. There are still serious question marks about the roster, like the health of Henrik Zetterberg or what's wrong with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but this is an extremely strong Swedish club.
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Russia is the great benefactor of the Americans naming their underwhelming Olympic roster before anyone else. The bump up may be short lived though, with Russia always willing to handicap themselves in order to promote the KHL. The Russians are boosted by their goaltending though, as Semyon Varlamov has returned to top form of late, and Sergei Bobrovsky is apparently ready to return to the lineup in Columbus. Add in that Alex Ovechkin is having a season for the record books to the usually strong Russian squad, and you have a strong team on home ice.
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The downside to naming your Olympic team before anyone else does is that we can see it and critique the finality of it while every other country can still be propped up by maybes. That disadvantage could have been avoided if the American management team had done a great job, but they didn't. Leaving off star scorer Bobby Ryan seems to have drawn the most ire, but the exclusions of Dustin Byfuglien and Keith Yandle are likely to be the most crippling for Team USA in Sochi. Byfuglien is arguably the best American born defenseman in the NHL, a physical presence unmatched by his American peers, and has speed to burn on the big ice. Yandle happens to be the best puck moving defenseman available, and you have to wonder if America's powerplay and transition offense will suffer greatly due to their absence.
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It probably doesn't make a ton of sense, but watching the way the Finnish junior team has played in the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships, I have to wonder if the Finnish men's team doesn't take the same approach. They're heavy underdogs compared to the consensus top four, and can afford to play with reckless abandon. They may not win anything, but this could be a great opportunity for Finland to bring youngsters like Aleksander Barkov and Teuvo Teravainen into the big competition with veterans like Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne to show them the ropes. Backed by Tuukka Rask, even with an old and thin defensive core, Finland could be an upset machine.
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Hey remember when we were talking about how Ondrej Pavelec was having a career year? Now he's having his worst season since his rookie year, and looks to be a gigantic wrench in the gears of the Czech national team. Combine Pavelec as the likely starter with a group of defensemen who aren't exactly the most adept puck movers, and you're going to see a Czech team with dynamic offense from the forwards that can't clear their own zone. They'll get hemmed in a lot, and scored on a ton. No help is coming in the form of Tomas Vokoun either, who is considering retirement. If only Michal Neuvirth could increase his profile with a few more starts.
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After a solid start to the year, Jaroslav Halak has once again collapsed under the pressure of being the starting goaltender for St. Louis, giving way to Brian Elliott. In fact, it's getting to the point where you wonder if Halak is still guaranteed the starting job over Peter Budaj. Halak is definitely the more skilled goaltender, but he has to produce results at some point.
Switzerland_medium http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/217757/dash.png The most important player for Switzerland is always the goaltender, and Jonas Hiller is heating up at the right time. Over his last 14 starts, Hiller has looked like the goalie we remember before his bout with vertigo. On defense, both Raphael Diaz and Roman Josi are positive possession players relative to their teammates, and Mark Streit is very close. Add in that Yannick Weber has scored his way back into the NHL, and the only missing piece is Luca Sbisa, who is still injured and may miss the Olympics. Up front Nino Niederreiter remains a top end scoring option, and Damien Brunner is no slouch.
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http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/217757/dash.png Norway is without a legitimate NHL star, represented only by Mats Zuccarello, but they have more depth overall than the teams below them, though Latvia may challenge them on that front.
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http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/217757/dash.png Like Norway, Latvia has just one representative from the NHL, and that is rookie Zemgus Girgensons. While Girgensons' stats may look underwhelming on the surface, he's been one of Buffalo's best possession players at just 19 years old, turning 20 on January 5th. These Olympics represent an opportunity for him to make a name for himself.
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http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/217757/dash.png Austria is building up a little bit and I was tempted to move them up in the rankings due to the emergence of Michael Raffi in Philadelphia, but the offensive struggles of Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner convinced me to keep them in this spot for a bit longer, at least until I can see more of Raffi.
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http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/217757/dash.png Anze Kopitar is the bomb. Only four NHLers have maintained a Corsi percentage of 60% or more through half of this NHL season, and one of them is Kopitar, another is his linemate Justin Williams. That Kopitar does it against the NHL's top competition in the toughest division in the league makes you wonder how well he'll fare carrying the whole team on his back.

More from SB Nation NHL:

Winter Classic : Leafs win in shootout | Old lady dancing

The Rink of Dreams: One Mich. family created an outdoor hockey paradise

WJC: Russia eliminates USA, then taunts them

Analyzing the American Olympic team

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