As the Buffalo Sabres prepare to host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the last pre-Olympic Wednesday Night Rivalry game on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET), it's hard not to turn the focus ahead to the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics because of two specific players who will be playing at First Niagara Center.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby orchestrated the signature play and moment for Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but he wasn't the most impactful player on the gold-medal winning team (that was the Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews).
Conversely, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was the most important player for the United States four years ago but he was on the wrong end of the single most memorable moment of the tournament (Crosby's golden goal).
Crosby and Miller will get another chance to make an impact and be in the signature moment this month in Sochi; Crosby as Canada's captain and Miller as the United States' potential No. 1 goalie, a title he has not yet been given by coach Dan Bylsma.
Crosby and Miller forever will be linked in Olympic history and they may get a chance to add another chapter in Russia.
Who will have the bigger impact for their respective national teams? Crosby for the Canadians or Miller for the Americans?
|To say the pressure is off because Crosby scored the golden goal four years ago is ridiculous. The pressure on Canada won't be any higher in Sochi than it was in Vancouver (impossible), but for Crosby it very well may be.
He's long been the face of Canadian hockey and now he's the Canada's Olympic captain. With that comes added responsibility, the kind of responsibility that fell to 36-year-old Scott Niedermayer in Vancouver.
Niedermayer, who won gold in 2002, his only other Olympic appearance, handled the pressure and dealt with the adversity with ease. Crosby has to be able to do the same in his second Olympics after winning gold four years ago.
The good news for Crosby is that he is one of 11 returning players from the 2010 team and nobody on the Canadian roster has or likely will argue against his merits for being captain.
The Canadians will look to Crosby to set the tone, the pace and the attitude of the team. They weren't necessarily doing that in Vancouver.
There were veterans of the 2002 Olympic gold-medal winning team on the Canadian team in 2010 and skaters like Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Jarome Iginla entered the tournament as the trend setters for younger players like Crosby.
Even though he is the face of hockey in Canada, four years ago Crosby could hide behind those older players as he got used to playing Olympic hockey; now he is one of Canada's older players despite being just 26. Canada has nine players, including five forwards, younger than Crosby, who was the second-youngest forward and third-youngest player on the team in 2010.
Now it's on Crosby to be the trendsetter.
There were times in 2010 that Canada won without getting much from Crosby other than his presence, which has to be taken into account. It may sound strange because we're talking about No. 87, but the defending gold medalists need Crosby more now than they did four years ago.
If Crosby is Canada's trendsetter and its most valuable player, the odds of hearing "O Canada" on the medal stand Feb. 23 go up significantly.
|Before anyone can determine what type of impact Miller will have in the upcoming Olympics, his place on the United States' depth chart has to be determined. So far Bylsma has not said publicly which goalie will be starting against Slovakia a week from Thursday.
So everything written here will start with if Bylsma chooses Miller. If Bylsma chooses Miller rather than Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard, he immediately will become the United States' most important player.
That's what a goalie is. Even when talking about Crosby as a trendsetter for Canada, the choice coach Mike Babcock makes for his goalie on a game-to-game basis will help define the impact Crosby can have in Sochi because without good goaltending a team rarely stands a chance.
If Bylsma chooses Miller, he will be able to draw off his experience from Vancouver. Quick was with the Americans four years ago but never played while Howard is a first-time Olympian. Miller played 355:07 of a possible 367:40 in the tournament four years ago. It's possible his experience winds up paying huge dividends early on in Sochi when the Americans try to come together as a team. It might even be the deciding factor for Bylsma.
If Bylsma chooses Miller he'll likely have a chance to make an impact right away.
The Americans open against Slovakia. The Slovaks aren't gold-medal contenders but they aren't pushovers either; they made it to the bronze-medal game in Vancouver. The U.S.'s second game is against Russia.
If Bylsma chooses Miller he'll be choosing a goalie accustomed to facing a lot of shots.
Quick is excellent against Grade-A scoring chances because of his athleticism and ability to challenge shooters, but the Sabres give up on average approximately eight more shots on goal per game than the Kings, so Miller is used to seeing a lot of rubber. The United States has a younger defense corps and could be susceptible to giving up a lot of shots, especially early in the tournament.
The fact that Miller has handled a bad situation in Buffalo the right way speaks to his ability to handle adversity, but things will be different in Sochi. If Bylsma chooses him Miller will have a good team in front of him, a team expected to play for the gold medal. He has done it once before. He knows what it takes.
Verdict: Miller's impact on the United States' chances in Sochi can be greater than Crosby's impact on Canada's chances if Bylsma chooses him.
Crosby may be the best player in the tournament, the best player in the world, but Miller is the potential No. 1 goalie on a team that has gold-medal aspirations. Crosby needs to set the tone and drive the pace of the games for Canada, but Miller might have to be the player who rescues his team at the most critical juncture of the tournament.
Miller's impact could determine how the U.S. fares; Crosby's impact only will play a role in determining Canada's chances.