Olympic Hockey Game Previews and Open Thread: Slovenia-Slovakia, USA-Russia

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After a good effort in Game 1, can Slovenia earn an improbable victory? Plus, three Kings play in a much-anticipated matchup.

Slovenia vs. Slovakia, 12:00 AM Pacific

Here it is. Slovenia's best opportunity to shock the world and win a game. Slovakia is a proud hockey nation which came achingly close to making the gold medal game in 2010, and we can bet that they would not have lost 7-1 four years ago. However, an inauspicious start to this tournament has left the Slovaks reeling a bit. The team would have needed a virtuoso goaltending performance to even have a shot, but Jaroslav Halak was unable to bail out his team when things got rough.

On the other hand, Slovenian goaltender Robert Kristan was awfully good for long stretches on Thursday. Sure, Ovechkin, Malkin, and Kovalchuk all found the net in the first two periods, but Kristan was the reason they each only did it once. Halak is better than he showed on Thursday, and Kristan may be worse. But if Slovenia's unheralded goalie gets some help from the defense and makes key saves, this could be a tight matchup.

That's where Anze Kopitar comes in. Slovenia found a new hero in Ziga Jeglic, but facing the shakiest team in the group, Slovenia's lone superstar will have to drive the offense. His line with Jan Mursak and David Rodman was reasonably effective, but didn't find the net on Tuesday. Russia's defensemen are nothing to write home about, but Slovakia's are even more vulnerable, and Kopitar will look to prove that he is the best player on the ice.

USA vs. Russia, 4:30 AM Pacific

This one is going to be fun. I'm sure we'll hear plenty about 1980 and the Cold War and the like, but no one will be thinking about that once the puck drops. Instead, it's a test of whether Jonathan Quick can withstand Russia's powerful attack, whether Russia's defense can keep up with America's speed, and whether Slava Voynov can avoid getting lit up by Dustin Brown. (Cleanly, of course; it's the Olympics.)

As we mentioned earlier, Brown has been placed on a line with David Backes and Ryan Callahan. Before the Olympics, a lot of people saw this as an ideal third line that would be extremely unpleasant to play against. Dan Bylsma will hope that this comes to fruition. Of course, his line selections are getting nowhere near the amount of the debate that his goaltending selection has gotten. Yep, our boy Jonathan Quick will be back in net, and after stopping 22 of 23 shots against Slovakia he's looking to lock down the starting job for the medal rounds.

On the other end, Russia has gotten their pressure-packed first game out of the way and gets a stiff test. Russia would love to find an early goal or two to get the home crowd into it, but they'd also prefer a stronger defensive showing than they got on Thursday. Slava Voynov will be crucial in that; he only played 16 minutes on Friday, but that was the second-most in an eight-defenseman rotation.

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