Winter Olympics 2014: Slovakia vs. United States preview and discussion thread

Bruce Bennett

Team USA begins the preliminary round with a matchup against Team Slovakia this morning. Here's your preview and gameday discussion thread.

Every Olympics has a breakout star.

Four years ago in Vancouver, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty raised his status from promising young player to one of the best defensemen in the NHL largely on the back of a terrific tournament. Joe Pavelski is considerably older and more established than Doughty was in 2010 but the Sharks forward is in the midst of a career year offensively for San Jose and looks poised to produce for Team USA too as they begin their preliminary round schedule this morning against Team Slovakia at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia.

After all, Pavelski centers what's arguably the Americans' most dangerous forward line, flanked by explosive goal-scorer Phil Kessel on his right and rangy power forward James van Riemsdyk on his left. Combined, the trio has potted 84 goals in the NHL this season, more than any other currently-assembled forward line at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Even Team Russia's fearsome combination of Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin ranks below them, with 72. But Pavelski brings a lot more to the table than offense alone, as Team USA associate general manager Brian Burke is keenly aware.

"We picked Joe four years ago because he's like a Swiss Army knife with so many functions," Burke told the Associated Press. "And he's much better offensively now. He doesn't get much ink because of some of the other players we have here and because he plays with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose."

The praise for Pavelski isn't confined to the USA brass as his teammate and captain Zach Parise, who generated a profile boost league-wide in his own right with a standout 2010 tournament, was similarly glowing in his assessment.

"He's a big-game player," Parise said to the AP. "He's so versatile. On any line he plays on, he makes guys better. He does so many things right whether he's scoring or not. You're comfortable having him on the ice whether you need someone to score a goal or make a defensive play because he can make plays on the whole sheet. He's tough to play against, so it's great to play with him."

Pavelski's prowess in all three zones, and development into an offensive force this season, is well known to Sharks fans who follow him on a daily basis. But if Pavelski has the kind of tournament he's capable of having, and helps the U.S. to its first gold medal since 1980's miracle on ice in the process, his stock around the hockey world could rise substantially. It all begins this morning against Slovakia.

Team Slovakia

@

Team USA
0-0-0, 0 points
0-0-0, 0 points
Tied-1st in Group A
Tied-1st in Group A

4:30AM PST | Bolshoy Ice Dome | Sochi, Russia | TV: NBCSN

Projected Team USA Lineup

Dustin Brown - Ryan Kesler - Patrick Kane
James van Riemsdyk - Joe Pavelski - Phil Kessel
Zach Parise - David Backes - Ryan Callahan
Max Pacioretty - Paul Stastny - T.J. Oshie
Ex.: Blake Wheeler

Ryan Suter - Paul Martin
Ryan McDonagh - Kevin Shattenkirk
Cam Fowler - John Carlson
Ex.: Brooks Orpik

Jonathan Quick
Ryan Miller

Projected Team Slovakia Lineup

Tomas Tatar - Michal Handzus - Marian Hossa
Tomas Jurco - Tomas Kopecky - Branko Radivojevic
Milan Bartovic - Tomas Surovy - Michel Miklik
Marcel Hossa - Tomas Marcinko - Richard Panik
Ex.: Peter Olvecky

Zdeno Chara - Andrej Sekera
Ivan Baranka - Andrej Meszaros
Martin Marincin - Milan Jurcina
Ex.: Tomas Starosta

Jaroslav Halak
Peter Budaj

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