ST LOUIS – With ten selections among the Olympic teams participating in Sochi, Russia, the St. Louis Blues lead the NHL in contributing to the two-week tournament which begins Wednesday, February 12th. Of all the St. Louis Blues’ players participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is possible the greatest contributions might come from the three playing on the United States team.
St. Louis Blues players David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk enter the Sochi Games with great anticipation and a golden opportunity to make a lasting impression on international hockey. Although some early rankings put the Americans 5th, there seems to be recent sentiment the United States could have a much stronger showing. There is good reason as to why feelings are changing.
Center David Backes captains a St. Louis Blues club which finds itself atop the Central division with 82 points and second overall in the Western Conference and the entire NHL, just two points behind Anaheim. This is his second trip to the Olympics after a silver finish in Vancouver at the 2010 games. While he defers to US captain Zach Parise, his leadership skills will be exerted on a seasoned team, one that fell one goal short of gold in 2010.
Backes brings with him the results of a stellar season in which he has 20 goals and 22 assists for 42 points in 52 games. He is third in team scoring, has a +12 rating and leads the Blues with 8 power play goals. Playing nearly 20 minutes a game for St. Louis, he will be another leader on the ice for the Americans.
Right wing T.J. Oshie has also made significant contributions to St. Louis this season and a big reason for why the Blues shit in such good shape. In 57 games, Oshie has chipped in 14 goals, but has 32 assists for 46 points, tied with Alexander Steen for the team lead. His rating of +17 is tied for second on the team with three other players and he has 4 game-winning goals. Look for Oshie to provide rough, physical play to make room for his linemates.
Expect Backes and Oshie to be on the same line with US captain and Minnesota Wild left wing Zack Parise to form the Americans’ second line.
On the backline, Kevin Shattenkirk will likely team with Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers as the American’s second defensive pairing. Shattenkirk has been on a roll of late. While he has scored 8 goals and added 28 helpers for 36 points and a +12 rating, he has 4 game winning-goals this season, tops among Blues defensemen, tied for second on the team and second overall in the NHL among defenseman.
The United States opens preliminary play against Slovakia Thursday, February 13th at 7:30 AM ET on TSN, NBCSN. They then face Russia in the second game on Saturday, February 15th at 7:30 AM ET on CBC, NBCSN before finishing with their final game of the preliminary round against Slovenia on Sunday, February 16th at 7:30 AM ET on NBCSN.
As for the rest of the Blues, I will be providing previews and updates throughout the tournament. Canada will be represented by defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Russia will be represented by right wing Vladimir Tarasenko. Slovakia is represented by goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Sweden will be represented by left wing Alexander Steen and center Patrik Berglund. Although named to the Czech Republic team, center Vladimir Sobotka is out with a knee injury.
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