Pass-Fail Marks for Each Olympic-Bound Pittsburgh Penguin in Sochi
Few teams in the NHL will be able to boast sending more players to the 2014 Winter Olympics than the Pittsburgh Penguins. In all, seven players from the organization will represent the Penguins once the Games are under way in Sochi, Russia.
While the role that each individual is expected to play varies, there are still notions of what every participant should be able to do for their respective team.
No one is looking at Brooks Orpik and expecting him to score 12 points for the Americans, and no one expects Sidney Crosby to be a shutdown center on the fourth line for Team Canada.
What's the median outlook for these Olympians? What is the bare minimum that they could do to avoid being accused of pulling an Olympic disappearing act? That's where our pass-fail marks come in. This is what each Penguin must do in Sochi to have a successful run.
D Paul Martin, United States
Paul Martin has only played in 23 contests for the Penguins this season, but there's no mystery about the kind of game the veteran defender likes to play. He's an intelligent presence on the blue line and has proven capable of providing offense in the past.
Martin's role as an offensive producer has been reduced a bit over the years, but Team USA will need all the points they can get from him. While no one expects him to dominate along the lines of an Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban, Martin is a slick defender that knows when to pinch.
He's never been a monster on the power play for the Penguins, so don't look for him to get much time with the extra man in Sochi. The United States will lean on Martin to be a steady presence in all three zones, especially given the relatively young group that will be on the ice on a nightly basis.
What He Needs to Pass: 1 G, 3 A, plus-four
D Brooks Orpik, United States
Like Martin, Brooks Orpik will be relied on as one of the elder statesmen in Team USA's locker room. Head coach Dan Bylsma is obviously very comfortable with the duo that he's bringing to Sochi from Pittsburgh. Orpik could end up as one of the tournament's leaders in ice time.
The offense from the blue line will be left up to the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Faulk. Cam Fowler and John Carlson are along for the ride too, just in case more puck movement from the back end is required.
Orpik can make a clean first pass out of the zone, but where he really thrives is in the corners and along the boards. Bylsma will deploy Orpik in Sochi the same way that he does with the Penguins: against the opposition's top forwards as a shutdown guy.
What He Needs to Pass: 0 G, 2 A, plus-six, a ton of hits and only a handful of PIMs
LW Jussi Jokinen, Finland
One of the most steady producers for the Penguins this season has been Jussi Jokinen. He's quietly put up 34 points and is currently playing some big, important minutes because of how banged up Pittsburgh has been at forward.
Jokinen is a speedy winger that could see a spike in effectiveness on the larger ice surfaces in Sochi—for a Finland team that is the middle of a changing of the guard of sorts, he'll need to be every bit as dangerous as he has been over the last several months for Pittsburgh.
And if things come down to a shootout, you know exactly who the Fins will be calling on to seal the deal.
What He Needs to Pass: 3 G, 3 A, one shootout-winner for fun
D Olli Maatta, Finland
Olli Maatta is one of those rare youngsters that seems to make things that are written about him seem out of date quickly because he visibly improves during each and every contest in which he takes part. As a rookie, he's expected to adjust his game here and there, but Maatta appears to be able to change up various cogs in his approach whenever he wants.
Lately, the Penguins have been wanting a bit more offense out of the 19-year-old wunderkind. So Maatta has taken to walking the blue line a la Nicklas Lidstrom and produced four points over his last five contests.
It doesn't seem like there's anything that the former first-round pick can't do, and he'll be one of the top defensive players for Finland in Sochi. His value at five-on-five is unquestioable, but where he could really make an impact is on the penalty kill.
What He Needs to Pass: 1 G, 3 A, plus-five, strong play on the penalty kill
C Sidney Crosby, Canada
Sidney Crosby has a chance to add a gnarly notch to his impressive belt in Sochi. He's already one of the biggest international stars that Canada has ever produced, and at 26, he has a chance to take down Canada's mortal enemy on their own soil.
Can No. 87 add to his already towering persona by defeating the Russians in Russia?
First, the Canadians will need to get through Group B, which features Austria, Finland and Norway. While the Fins should be a tough challenge for the defending gold medalists, Austria and Norway will provide little competition and (barring a historic upset) will allow Sid and co. to pad their stats prior to the qualification playoff.
What He Needs to Pass: 4 G, 5 A, plus-three and a dominating performance over Russia
LW Chris Kunitz, Canada
On a Canadian squad chock full of offensive talent, Chris Kunitz will stand out because of his speed and playing style. Few players will get the call from Mike Babcock more often than the self-proclaimed late bloomer. Kunitz plays hard down in the corners and is a monster in front of the opposition's net.
Team Canada will be looking for him to do the same things that he does in Pittsburgh. It's almost guaranteed that Kunitz will end up skating alongside Crosby on the team's No. 1 line, and he'll be expected to do some heavy lifting in all three zones.
Look for him to be among the most effective offensive threats in Sochi. What Kunitz lacks in fireworks, he more than makes up for with hard work and hockey sense: two of Babcock's favorite traits when it comes to players that he coaches.
What He Needs to Pass: 3 G, 2 A, plus-four
C Evgeni Malkin, Russia
No team heading to Sochi features a top line that possesses as much fire power as Russia's No. 1 line. Canadian fans can argue until their faces turn blue about the combination of Steven Stamkos, Crosby and Kunitz being better—Evgeni Malkin centering Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Ovechkin is just too ridiculous to ignore, though.
How amped will these guys be to play in front of their hometown fans?
And how many points can Malkin score, given that level of energy and talent to play alongside? Let's be honest here: no one will be shocked or awed if the 27-year-old pivot finishes as the best forward in the tourney.
Malkin doesn't have to snag those honors for these Olympics to be considered a personal success, but he very well could. Anything less than gold will be a disappointment for Russia, and "Geno" will need to be at his very best to catapult his team to the top of the podium.
What He Needs to Pass: 4 G, 4 A, plus-three