Across the world Monday, training camps are opening for the eight teams competing in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. While the last week has been rife with players dropping out due to injury, most players reported for camp Sunday and some teams have already hit the ice for their first practice.
As camps get underway, here’s a look at one big question teams will be facing as they start preparing to compete in the first World Cup of Hockey since 2004.
Is Carey Price ready to be the No. 1 after a long layoff from injury?
Carey Price hasn’t seen live game action since last November. The long layoff as he dealt with a lower-body injury going right into a tournament that is going to have the pace of a Stanley Cup Playoff game with probably only one exhibition start in between is a lot to take on.
Price still owns the title of best goalie in the world, but not having a preseason to get ready with some meaningless exhibition starts is a challenge for even the best players. The good news for Canada is that they have some great safety nets in Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford, if they need them. On top of that, Price will have the deepest team in the tournament in front of him no matter what.
If this is Canada’s biggest question heading into the tournament, they don’t have too many problems to really worry about.
Who gets the No. 1 job in net?
There are a few other questions one might have about the U.S., but the most important one is which of USA’s three goalies gets to be the No. 1?
Jonathan Quick was the Olympic starter, has two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe, and has a reputation as a big-game goalie. However, his most recent “big games” didn’t go so well as he performed below expectations during a first-round exit at the hands of the San Jose Sharks. His numbers over the full season over the last two years have only been average, too.
Meanwhile, Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop both present the U.S. with alternatives that give coach John Tortorella a lot to think about.
Bishop has been involved with two deep playoff runs with the Tampa Bay Lightning and was arguably the Lighting’s MVP last postseason before going down with an injury, as he posted a .939 save percentage in 11 starts.
Meanwhile, Schneider has been the picture of consistency throughout his career with a .925 save percentage over 270 NHL appearances. He doesn’t have much postseason experience however, with 10 total playoff appearances and none since 2013.
It’s a tough call that may have to be sorted out in the exhibition games to see who might be most prepared. It’s also the most important decision this team has to make because the goalie is going to play a huge role for a team that is likely to get out-shot a lot.
Team North America
How will they balance out their forward lines?
As the designated youngest team in the tournament, they might be underestimated, but one look at the forward lineup shows that anyone who takes them lightly is making a mistake. The important thing for Team North America to get right up front, however, is how to balance out their lines. Finding the right mix is going to be the key to making them tougher to match up against.
We’re already getting a preview as they begin their first day of practices in Montreal:
NA lines at this point: Drouin-McDavid-Scheifele, Gaudreau-Eichel-Saad, MacKinnon-RNH-Larkin, Miller-Couturier-Matthews/Trocheck
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) September 5, 2016
Aside from Couturier, there aren’t too many other guys you would use in a shutdown situation. But if they spread out the lines properly, they can make themselves harder to contain. With the structure they’re starting with, it looks like head coach Todd McLellan is off to a really good start.
This is a team that is going to be looking to win in much the same way the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Speed and transition are big parts of this team’s identity and they’ll be hoping that translates to winning the possession battle as well. As a result, every line is going to be expected to contribute offensively to make it so the other team has to shut them down instead of the other way around.
How will they come together without much time together?
Unlike other teams that have a lot of players that have played together in a national team setting before, Europe has players from eight different countries on this team. There are some NHL teammates and some combos they can carry over from the other national teams, but there’s going to be a feeling out process, too.
Making things a little more challenging is that 11 players on the roster are going to be entering camp late after competing in Olympic qualifiers last week. Additionally, the team had to replace Frederik Andersen at the last minute after he was injured in the qualifying tournament. Philipp Grubauer, who just played for Germany overseas, will reportedly be replacing him.
How do they make up for significant injury losses?
Losing Henrik Zetterberg and Alexander Steen in the leadup to the tournament is a tough blow to the team. Steen was a longshot to make it due to surgery, but Zetterberg was expected to be the captain of this team. They’re also two of the better two-way forwards Sweden has in its arsenal of talent.
Rickard Rakell and Mikael Backlund were the replacement players, but their arrival means Sweden has to change up its forward structure. Here’s an early look at what they’re thinking:
Sweden’s lines: Sedin-Sedin-Eriksson, Forsberg-Backstrom-Hornqvist, Silfverberg-Kruger-Hagelin, Landeskog-Soderberg-Rakell #WCH2016
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) September 5, 2016
That’s still a pretty formidable group, but the absence of Zetterberg and Steen will be felt. It’s going to be up to lower-lineup guys like Carl Hagelin and Gabriel Landeskog to make sure there’s little drop off in the Swedes’ bottom six.
Where is the secondary scoring going to come from?
This Finnish team is going to be leaning heavily on young players Aleksander Barkov and recent No. 2 overall draft pick Patrik Laine. They are likely to be paired on Finland’s first line with veteran Jussi Jokinen, which gives Finland a pretty potent top scoring unit.
The question for this team is where are the rest of the goals going to come from? Guys like Mikael Granlund, Joonas Donskoi, Teuvo Teravainen and Jori Lehtera are going to have a lot of pressure on them to help produce because it won’t take teams long to key on Barkov and Laine. Without a strong secondary scoring attack, Finland will struggle in this tournament.
Can Russia structure its defense well enough to mitigate talent/experience gap?
Russia’s forward group is going to be dangerous, but their blue line is pretty shallow. That could be a problem in the tournament whether or not the forwards are pouring in goals.
The issue may come with experience. Nikita Zaitsev, Nikita Nesterov and Alexey Marchenko are short on NHL time. They, along with Dmitry Orlov and Dmitry Kulikov, also have not played in a tournament with this quality of talent. They’re going to be challenged right away.
With Montreal Canadiens teammates Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov the most experienced among them, it’s going to make structuring the defense difficult. It’s going to come down to finding the right mix for pairings and optimizing the strengths of the younger guys. There should be some familiarity with each other from prior national teams, but sorting out the blue line is priority one for Oleg Znarok.
Can they recover from the injury losses?
The Czech Republic was already dealing with a shallow talent pool. Jaromir Jagr declined a spot before the team was named. Then they lost David Krejci. Then they lost Tomas Hertl. Jiri Hudler said no when they asked him to be a replacement.
They’re behind the tournament field in just about every way possible. The Czechs are going to need herculean efforts from their goaltenders (Petr Mrazek, Michal Neuvirth, Ondrej Pavelec) to even compete. It might be asking too much.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / World Cup of Hockey: One big question facing each team as training camps open