Max Pacioretty will be one of seven Montreal Canadiens representing his country in the Olympic Games. It will be the first Olympics for Pacioretty and it all begins for him tomorrow morning when the United Stated take on Slovakia.
The United States are the defending silver medal winners from 2010 in Vancouver, losing in overtime on Sidney Crosby’s golden goal. Since NHL players began taking part in the Olympics in 1998, the USA has been all over the standings map. In ’98 they finished a disappointing 6th place before bouncing back on home ice in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002 and taking home silver. In Turin in 2006, they fell down the standings again, finishing 8th before grabbing silver in 2010.
Clearly, the Americans have been much better the closer they are to home. The USA have not medaled in men’s hockey at an Olympic Games held outside of North America since they took home a silver from Sapporo, Japan in 1972.
The United States are a strong team and have depth at all positions. They are amongst the favorites heading into this tournament, and will be disappointed if they return home empty handed. They will count on Olympic veterans Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and Patrick Kane to lead the offense, but Pacioretty will be a big part of their secondary scoring that will be needed if this country is going to take home the gold.
Pacioretty has only worn the USA sweater on two occasions in his career thus far. He played at the 2008 World Junior’s, and finished scoreless in six games played as the USA finished off the podium after losing to Russia in the Bronze Medal Game.
In the 2012 World Championships, Pacioretty represented the United States and led the team in points with 12 in eight games. He finished fifth in the tournament in scoring, but the USA would lose to Finland in the Quarterfinal and head home without a medal.
Pacioretty is fourth amongst American born NHLers in goals this season with 26. Practice lines have been juggled, but he has skated alongside Ryan Kesler and Patrick Kane on what could be one of the most dominant lines in the tournament when you take into account size, speed and scoring abilities.
On such a deep roster of forwards, Pacioretty will be playing with elite players no matter what line he is on. In fact, he practiced with Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie for a day as well. This would be considered a fourth line for the Americans, but both Stastny and Oshie have already scored forty points with their NHL teams this season. With no other Montreal Canadiens on the team, there is no natural chemistry for Pacioretty. Finding the right line combinations is always tough for coaches in these tournaments, but it should not be difficult to find a center that will enjoy playing with a player that can skate and score goals like Max does.
The USA are in Group A with Slovakia, Slovenia and the host Russians. They begin the Olympics tomorrow when they face Slovakia. They have Friday off to prepare for the high flying Russians on Saturday, and then close the round robin with their easiest test, against Slovenia.
Slovakia is a tricky team to play on opening day of the tournament. They do not have the firepower to match other nations, or even match the USA, but with Zdeno Chara on defense they can be difficult to deal with. Slovak goaltender, and former teammate of Pacioretty, Jaro Halak has also proven to be at his best when the games are biggest. In past Olympics and Stanley Cup playoff games, Halak has taken his game to new heights so the United States are in tough right away.
Their second game is against Russia who are among the favorites to win this tournament and have the added benefit of being on home ice. North American teams have traditionally struggled in Olympics held overseas, so the U.S. will have to buck that trend in order to win their Group. They could do everything right, and still begin the tournament 0-2. Luckily, the Slovenians only have one NHL player (Anze Kopitar), and will be a bit of a relief to see after facing two tough opponents.
Pacioretty is fourth amongst Americans in goals, but they are so deep on the wings he will have to be at his absolute best to earn ice time. Their lines have already been all over the map in just three days of practice, so Max could find himself on any of the four forward lines when the puck drops tomorrow.
It will be difficult for Max to get ice time on the power play where he does plenty of damage. With Kane, Parise, Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk all playing the wing for this team, Pacioretty may find himself in unfamiliar territory on the bench when his team has a man advantage.
However, if the United States are going to medal in this event, it will be because they were able to get timely scoring from all lines. A lot of that will have to come from Pacioretty and whoever he happens to be on a line with. You can bet that Toronto Maple Leaf wingers Van Riemsdyk and Kessel will be paired on a line, and that leaves right wingers Oshie, Ryan Callahan and Kane to play on a line with Pacioretty.
USA gets a lot of praise for their depth in net, and it is well deserved with Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller battling for ice time. However, this team is not getting a lot of attention for their depth down the middle, but Stastny, Joe Pavelski, Kesler and David Backes are all very capable middle men.
With all due respect to David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, it looks like Pacioretty’s linemates over the next two weeks will be the best players he has ever played with.
If Pacioretty can capitalize on this opportunity and find the back of the opponents net as he is known to do, the United States will have as good of a chance at winning gold as anyone.