Image credit: Chris Thomas @kingsrock3211
The preliminary round is now over and while plenty of NHL teams should be proud of their representatives in Sochi, few teams should feel better than the Los Angeles Kings in terms of players making the most noise in Sochi thus far.
With a goal and an assist to his record, Kings captain Dustin Brown is doing what he can to chip in for his native United States. Many fans on this side of the pond certainly wish the Ithaca, New York, native could be doing more but with Americans undefeated and entering the medal round as the No. 2 seed, most are concerned with how Team USA is doing as a whole - and there is no concern on that front.
Speaking of Team USA, while he didn't play in Sunday's finale against Slovenia, goaltender Jonathan Quick has been outstanding in his first two Olympic outings. Yes, he was part of the US team in 2010 but as the third netminder on that squad, Quick never saw the bench, much less the ice. 2014 is, for all intents and purposes, his Olympic debut and he is playing as if he's an old pro.
With the US clobbering Slovakia 7-1 to open their preliminary schedule, Jonathan Quick's play wasn't much of a factor. But that's not to say he wasn't good. The native of Milford, Connecticut left the Slovaks scratching their heads. Then, when USA head coach Dan Bylsma elected to go with Quick again against Russia, No. 32 elevated his game, keeping guys like Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk off the score sheet. While Pavel Datsyuk did score twice and Kovalchuk did solve the netminder in the shootout, it wasn't enough. While TJ Oshie was deemed the hero of that game - and rightfully so - it was Quick's solid goaltending that got the Americans so deep with the host country. In hindsight, it's funny to think that before the tournament started, TSN analyst (and former NHL netminder) Jamie McLennan said that in order for Jonathan Quick to be successful, he'd have to change his over-aggressive style. Despite not changing one iota in his game, Quick has been successful thus far. Draw your own conclusion.
As for the lone NHLer on Team Slovenia, Anze Kopitar has certainly done his part. He may not lead his club in scoring but the leadership and expertise of No. 11 has led to the country's first-ever Olympic win in men's hockey. Before their opening game against Russia, one writer asked Kopitar how many goals he expects the Russians to beat them by. In the end, the Russians beat the Slovenes by three - but it was a heck of a lot closer than anyone anticipated, yours truly included.
After 40 minutes, Slovenia was down 3-2 until the Russians pulled away, winning 5-2. But the upstart hockey nation was not deterred as they defeated Slovakia 3-1 in their next game before falling to the US on Sunday. In the preliminary round, Kopitar played a key role for his country, scoring twice and adding an assist as they now prepare for a qualifying-round match against Austria on Tuesday. Right now, the only concern involving Kopitar is his health as the Kings' star left Sunday's game before heading to the hospital for some blood tests. The word is that Kopitar has a stomach bug. While there is no definite word on whether or not he'll be ready for Tursday, the consensus is that Kopitar will be fine very soon.
The most unproductive to date in Sochi has been the only one playing in his home country. Despite Russia's moderate success, defenseman Slava Voynov has yet to register a point. In all fairness, though, there is more to Voynov's game than his offensive prowess. Defensively, Voynov was played well and is a notable reason for his native country allowing so few goals. Yes, the goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky have played well but Russia's defensive unit hasn't lacked either - and Voynov's a big part of that.
Unfortunately for Voynov, he did turn heads this weekend but not for the most ideal of reasons.
After a late Fedor Tyutin goal was called back against the United States, Voynov blamed his Los Angeles teammate Jonathan Quick (or not depending who you ask) for knocking his net off its moorings. While Voynov did say that the play was a result of Quick's style, the context is unknown to most. Nevertheless, there was some definitely some friction lingering after Team USA's epic shootout win over the Russians.
And then there's Canada.
Entering Sochi as the defending Olympic gold-medalists in addition to boasting a roster that would have the most intimidating of defensive units trembling, Team Canada was primed to repeat as champions. Even with a schedule that had them playing Norway, then Austria seemed too easy. But the Canadians struggled, defeating the Norwegians by a 3-1 score but came alive against the Austrians winning 6-0.
Despite the fast start, however, many of Canada's big offensive guns were kept quiet. Nash, Sharp and even Crosby couldn't find the back of the net. Luckily, two of their defensemen could; Nashville's Shea Weber and Los Angeles's Drew Doughty. Oh, and while Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Toews all helped out up front, there was one forward who stood above the fray: the Kings' other Canadian representative Jeff Carter.
En route to their win against Austria, Jeff Carter scored a natural hat trick. Then, in their preliminary finale against Finland on Sunday, Carter set up Kings teammate Drew Doughty for the overtime winner. By the way, Doughty scored Canada's other goal en route to downing Finland,
Skeptics can say what they want about Team Canada's lack of production. But there are two players they haven't had to worry about thus far, the two Kings. Entering their quarter-final bye, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty lead Canada with three and four goals respectively.
In Vancouver four years ago, seeing Doughty, Brown and Quick (in addition to former Kings Jack Johnson and Michal Handzus) represent their countries was a thrilling experience, In fact, even if none of them contributed, that would have been fine. I said the same thing entering these Winter Games - but this time, the representatives of the Los Angeles Kings are making their team and their fans proud, even if some aren't happy that their production isn't as frequent as it is when they don the silver-and-black.
It is hard to imagine that each country has played only three games each. So much has happened, so many feelings have been shared and there is still plenty of exciting left to go in Sochi. As for all the NHL teams, they have been privileged to see their own players make the most of the opportunity in representing their respective countries. For the Los Angeles Kings, that pride should be multiplied as few are contributing in Sochi at the pace that those who wear the crowns in North America are.
Witnessing this is definitely a momentous event.