How Will the Olympics Affect Struggling Habs

Subban is ready to shine in Sochi.

Subban is ready to shine in Sochi.

After the Olympics hockey rosters were announced, eight of the Montreal Canadiens players will be on their way to Sochi. These players include P.K. Subban and Carey Price (CDN), Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin (RUS), Max Pacioretty (USA), Raphael Diaz (SUI), Peter Budaj (SVK), and Tomas Plekanec (CZK). All of these players are big parts of the Habs roster, and it will be a huge hit if these players are injured, or just purely exhausted after the Olympic Games.

Both of the Habs goalies have started off the 2013-14 campaign with good starts, Carey Price with one of the best in the league. It wouldn’t surprise many if Price carried most of the workload between the pipes for Team Canada throughout the tournament, and this can seriously wear a goalie out. What could make this even more of a challenge is that he is playing for Team Canada, meaning they are the favourite to go relatively deep, if not all the way in this tournament. That’s a lot of games. Even if there is Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith there to take over if necessary, if Price is on a roll, it’s doubtful he will get much rest.

Peter Budaj is in my opinion one of the best backup goalies in the league. He knows what he is, and is willing to play his heart out whenever he is given the chance. With former Canadien Jaroslav Halak heading the Slovaks Olympic team in net, Budaj will likely take this role once again. I don’t see Budaj making too many starts in this year’s Olympics, unless Halak is struggling that is. If Price is feeling the effects of the Olympics once the NHL is back in action, I could see Budaj getting a few more starts as Price gets some rest, and prepares for playoffs.

On the back end, Montreal has four defencemen ready to play for their countries. P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, and Raphael Diaz. Subban has been controversial to make the team since Olympic talk began, but made his way onto the Canadian squad. I believe he will manage to work his way up the pairings, and play some big minutes, especially on the PP. His speed and vision are seriously unparalleled and will be a huge advantage on such big ice. I can see him proving doubters wrong, and helping carry this team deep into the tournament.  Subban has been able to play long minutes all season long, and this tournament will help improve his game. I can see him coming back a more mature player, and ready to even more of a leader on this Habs team.

Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin have played most of the season together after Emelin returned from his ACL surgery. Emelin can throw his body hard at opposing players and has a heck of a shot – when he wants to use it. Markov is excellent on the PP and is solid in his own zone, and I can see these two playing a PP unit together. Both are hard-working players and are willing to put their bodies on the line to make a play or save the game. There is definitely a downfall for both players coming into this tournament. Emelin still isn’t 100% since his surgery, and Markov has a history of injury. Both players stand a big risk of being hurt in the tournament, and this could create a big gap in the defence of the Canadiens.

Raphael Diaz has had a decent season with Montreal. He isn’t exactly stellar on the man advantage, but he has a good shot when/if it hits the net. He has been notorious this year with having his shots blocked, or shooting wide. If he could manage to get his shots through, he could be an offensive weapon for the Swiss. I think this tournament could actually help his game. He needs something to turn his play around, and maybe playing for his country will be exactly that. I’d like to see Diaz come back from this tournament more determined and ready to go; otherwise, I can see his spot on the Habs blue line slipping away.

Plekanec will be the captain of his team.

Plekanec will be the captain of his team.

Finally, there are two forwards from Montreal’s front end ready to represent their countries.  Tomas Plekanec has been named the Czech team captain, and Max Pacioretty was named to Team USA. Both players are playing excellent hockey right now, and are leading the Habs’ front end. Plekanec is one of the best two-way forwards in the league and has been mentioned by a few of being Selke candidate worthy (awarded to the best defensive forward). He will more than likely be playing big minutes on the PK as that is his specialty. I don’t think his play will change much after the Olympics, as he is one of the most consistent players on the Canadiens.

Pacioretty is probably the most lethal offensive power on the Habs roster. He has a wicked shot, and is able to play a good cycle game in the offensive zone. I can see him playing very well for Team USA and coming back even better. His consistency is called into question quite frequently as he is known to fall into slumps. But I feel that playing on a bigger stage for his country could help to motivate him.

Overall, the Habs have some excellent players going to the Olympics this year. This can be good and bad. All of these players will be extremely tired, physically and mentally, after playing at such a high calibre. Hopefully there are no injuries in the tournament and the players come home healthy. All we can do is hope that these players come back with a thirst for victory, and play even better than they were when they left.

By Darrin Harmsworth AKA @darrinharmy

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