The Broncos and Panthers faced off last night for the first regular season game of the season, with Denver winning by a point, 21–20. Just like in the Super Bowl, the Broncos' defense kept Cam Newton contained, allowing 194 yards passing. The biggest hero of last night, however, was Denver's rookie fullback Andy Janovich, who scored a 28-yard touchdown on his first carry:
2014 OLYMPIC RESULT: GOLD
Winner of the last two IIHF world championship golds and the last two Olympic golds, Canada is the team to beat. Its combination of star power and depth is unrivaled. What other team boasts three of the NHL's eight post-lockout MVPs (Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, and Joe Thornton) and left a fourth (Corey Perry) off the roster entirely? The late additions to the team could create a starting lineup capable of beating any other in the tournament: Brent Burns, Matt Duchene, Claude Giroux, Alex Pietrangelo, and Thornton.
In addition to its depth, what separates Canada's roster from its rivals is versatility. The team's two leading scorers in Sochi, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty, may be the world's best defensemen in their own zone. And top centers Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron battle each other every year for the Selke trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward.
If this team has a weakness, it is its own success. A strong leadership group (Canada is basically an All-Star team of current and former NHL captains) should prevent complacency. But an unwillingness to tinker with a winning formula has led to controversial roster decisions, namely leaving off P.K. Subban.
2014 OLYMPIC RESULT: SILVER
Five core members of the team that won gold in Torino in 2006 are still here: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and Henrik Lundqvist. Zetterberg and the Sedin twins still figure to do much of the heavy lifting on offense, while Lundqvist's presence in net gives the team a fighting chance in every game.
It's the young defense, however, that makes Sweden a threat to Canada's dominance. Erik Karlsson is the best offensive defenseman in the world — and inarguably the best blueliner not from Canada. He joins Tampa's Victor Hedman, Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Arizona's Oliver Ekman-Larsson in a group so versatile and deep that John Klingberg (58 points for Dallas last season) couldn't crack it. And if coach Rikard Gronborg opts to start Nashville's Mattias Ekholm at defense over the aging Kronwall, Sweden will be even more dangerous.
2014 OLYMPIC RESULT: LOST BRONZE MEDAL GAME
After a puzzling decision to leave Bobby Ryan off the 2014 Olympic squad and the subsequent disappointing fourth-place finish, Team USA responded with ... more contentious roster moves. Back are the two Johnsons on defense — Erik and Jack — who were on the silver-medal-winning 2010 team but were not invited to play in Sochi. Despite their faithful service to the national team, they're just not that good. Besides Ryan Suter, Justin Faulk may be the best American-born defender in the NHL, and he'll be watching from home.
As far as the forwards go, Ryan still didn't make the squad and neither did Penguins' playoff hero Phil Kessel. In their place are grinders Ryan Callahan and Justin Abdelkader. America boasts the reigning NHL MVP, Patrick Kane, but he can't do it alone. The future is bright for Team USA, but those players are on Team North America.
2014 OLYMPIC RESULT: LOST IN QUARTERFINALS
The eternal problem of the Russian roster: too many forwards, not enough defense. If trading was allowed among international teams, Russia could probably quickly reclaim its Soviet-era glory by swapping Nikita Kucherov for Sweden's Victor Hedman, or sending Ilya Kovalchuk's rights to Canada for P.K. Subban's. Alas, Russia — led by Alexander Ovechkin — is doomed to trying to win games with double-digit goal totals.
Ironically, despite the ragtag group of defensemen playing in front of them, Russia's goalies may be the best trio in the tournament: Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Too bad the team can only have one on the ice at a time.
2014 OLYMPIC RESULT: BRONZE
Long considered a goalie factory — the team will likely have Pekka Rinne backing up Tuukka Rask in this tournament — Finland has started to develop stars at other positions. Olli Maatta, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Sami Vatanen are three of the NHL's most underrated defensemen. And youngster Aleksander Barkov joins Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula to give the Finns enviable depth down the middle.
Unlike some other teams, Finland has no obvious weaknesses — it's just not talented enough. But unlike Canada and the USA, the Finns benefit from keeping their very promising under-23 crop. This tournament looks more like a preview of what's to come for Finland.
2014 OLYMPIC RESULT: LOST IN QUARTERFINALS
The bad news: Jaromir Jagr opted out of the tournament. (He's 44 years old and still starring for the playoff-contender Panthers, so he could use the extra time before the NHL season starts.) The even worse news: No Czech NHL player matched Jagr's 66 points last year. That fact serves as a great tribute to Jagr's talent and longevity, but it does not bode well for the future of this national program.
So who can replace 68? The best bet is Jakub Voracek, who had 81 points for the Flyers in 2014-15, before a disappointing '15--16. If he can bounce back, a potential top line of Voracek, David Krejci, and Ondrej Palat should scare opponents.
DIDN'T COMPETE IN 2014 OLYMPICS
Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Austria, and Norway make up this European Union of lesser hockey powers. Despite being better at other sports, however, these nations have produced some serious NHL stars who will suit up for Team Europe: Anze Kopitar, Zdeno Chara, Roman Josi, and Marian Hossa.
One attribute that literally and figuratively separates Europe from its opponents is team speed. Josi, Mats Zuccarello, and Marian Gaborik can all fly. Stretch passes and breakaways may cause problems for teams with slower defensemen. Solid goaltending and the ability to go for home run plays make this wild-card team a threat.
Photo: David E. Klutho
Scouting the World Cup of Hockey
Unfortunately, foul balls can not be reviewed on replay, so the Astros had to live with the bad call: