Jan 11, 2014; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov (79) celebrates his goal against Chicago Blackhawks with teammate defenseman Alexei Emelin (74) during the second period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Max Pacioretty Faces Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin In Potential Medal Game Preview

Max Pacioretty will be going head to head against a pair of Montreal Canadiens teammates this morning, in the most hyped of the Preliminary Round games at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The United States will take on the host Russians, including Habs Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin, in a matchup of two gold medal hopefuls. It is the first game of the tournament with no clear favorite and obvious underdog.

Both teams breezed through their opening games on Thursday, with the Americans blasting Slovakia 7-1 and Russia topping Slovenia 5-2. The winner of today’s game will in all likelihood win again tomorrow against a much lesser opponent and win Group A.

Pacioretty played on a dominant line with Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche and winger T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues. The line combined for five points and Max led the team in shots with four and chipped in with an assist in the lopsided victory.

Russia will prove a much more difficult challenge for the Americans. The host nation held off a pesky Slovenian team, who won their first ever Olympic hockey game this morning against Slovakia.

Markov carries a heavy load for Russia, playing on their top pairing with Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings. Emelin played on the third pairing with Evgeny Medvedev of the KHL. The Russian defense will face their first big test today against an extremely deep American team who can roll four lines of NHL stars. Russia has an impressive group of forwards, and a top six that could make any nation jealous, but their weakness is without a doubt their defensemen.

The Canadiens defenders will play a big role today, and will have to find a way to slow down the speed of Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and Zach Parise. The top pairing of Markov and Voynov may have a tough time dealing with the physicality of the American forwards. David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and Ryan Kesler bring an overwhelming physical presence that the slight Russian will have to scramble to find an answer for.

This is the first game of the Olympics between two serious contenders, and we will soon get to see how the Russians can deal with the intense pressure on them to win. They have an amazing group of forwards, but it remains to be seen how well their mediocre group of defenders can hold up against a medal contending team.

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Tags: Alexei Emelin Andrei Markov Max Pacioretty Montreal Canadiens

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