Tomas Plekanec will be one of seven Montreal Canadiens representing his country in the Olympic Games that begin tomorrow. It will be the second Olympics for Plekanec and he will be counted on to lead the underdog Czech Republic as their captain.
Czech Republic took home a Gold Medal in 1998 when Dominik Hasek carried the team to victory, and also won bronze in 2006.
The Czech’s don’t have high expectations this year, as an aging core plus a few odd roster choices places them far behind the favorites, on paper at least. The Czech roster is mostly comprised of players from the NHL but also features recent NHL castoffs Jiri Novotny and Roman Cervenka as well as 42 year old Petr Nedved who last played in North America in 2007. Former Habs Tomas Kaberle also joins the team from his hometown team in Kladno.
This is especially surprising considering Jiri Hudler and Radim Vrbata were left off the roster. Hudler only trails David Krejci and Jaromir Jagr in points amongst Czech born players in the NHL and Vrbata is fifth. However, both were snubbed in favor of Nedved and Novotny.
In the 2010 Games, Plekanec scored two goals and three points and the Czech’s were shutout in the Quarterfinal by Finland. Plekanec had much more individual success at recent World Championships, scoring 21 points in 20 games over the past three years representing his country.
Plekanec always seems to find chemistry, and the back of his opponents net when he plays on a line with Jagr. Early indications are the pair will be reunited on a line when they take on Sweden tomorrow, with Cervenka playing the third wheel. I still can’t wrap my head around having Cervenka, who scored 19 points in 39 games with the Calgary Flames last year, on the second line and Hudler, who has 43 points in 58 games with the same Flames this year, not on the roster.
Roster decisions certainly weaken Plekanec’s linemates, but he and Jagr have been excellent together in the past no matter who else is on the ice with them. It is likely that the top line of David Krejci, Jakub Voracek and Patrick Elias will draw opponent’s best defenders. This should give Plekanec’s line some offensive opportunities, against weaker competition than Krejci will face.
The Czech’s are in Group C with Sweden, Latvia and Switzerland. Their schedule opens on a tough note as they face the powerhouse Sweden in the opening game of the tournament tomorrow afternoon. After a day off on Thursday, Czech Republic takes on Latvia on Friday. No matter how many poor roster decisions they made, beating Latvia should not be a difficult task. The Preliminary Round closes on Saturday when they take on Switzerland.
The Swiss are not a favorite in this tournament but have shown to be able to beat anyone in the past. If the Czech’s can come out of the gates quickly against Sweden and take the opening game, they will likely find themselves with a bye to the Quarterfinal. That will be no easy task however, as the deep Swedish team could pick apart the unimpressive Czech Republic defense.
The Czech’s are not very deep down the middle, and though this could spell their demise, it ensures Plekanec will play an enormous role on this team. He will get power play time alongside Jagr, and will split center penalty killing duties with Martin Hanzal.
They may not have the most impressive team on paper, but there have been many upsets in Olympics past, including when this country won gold in 1998.
As for Plekanec, expect him to post much better numbers than the three points he scored in the 2010 Olympics. Plekanec should be much closer to the point per game he averages in World Championships, I just don’t think his strong two way play will be enough to carry his country to another Olympic medal.