It's that time again. After some remarkable Qualification and Quarter-final round action, the PuckWatch Power Rankings were bound to change. Only four teams remain, USA, Finland, Canada and Slovakia. Slovakia was PuckWatch's dark horse to medal in Vancouver 2010 and they look poised. USA and Finland face off Friday afternoon, with Slovakia and Canada doing battle in the evening. This edition of the Power Rankings show Canada and Slovakia moving up, and Russia and Sweden moving down.
1 - (PR 4). Canada
Team Canada stumbled against the USA thanks to some average goaltending at one end, and the game of Ryan Miller's life. Canada obliterated Russia in the Quarters after beating Germany 8-2 and they appear to have cobbled together some amazing combinations. The newly formed Toews-Nash-Richards line was outstanding, shutting down the Russians top line entirely. Canada seems poised to re-claim its hockey supremacy at the highest level.
2 - (PR 2). USA
Since upsetting Canada, USA has served notice that they are for real. It seems highly plausible that we may see a rematch in the Gold Medal game. Ryan Miller has been incredible and the USA forwards have chipped in with timely goals to earn them the number two spot.
3 - (PR 4). Slovakia
The eternal darkhorse, Slovakia has nothing to lose. For some reason, experts had no expectations on this team. Superstars like Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and a solid supporting cast of Stumpel, Palffy, Demitra, and Handzus round out some solid forwards. On Defense, they have the incomparable Zdeno Chara, along with Lubomir Visnovsky, Andrei Meszaros, and Milan Jurcina. The Slovaks have had steady goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and should not be underestimated.
4 - (PR 5) Finland
Finland has quietly put together a strong tournament. Despite being shutout by the Swedes, they have looked solid against the lesser teams, and were strong against the Czechs. Finland - USA seems to be a toss up.
5 - (PR 1) Sweden
Sweden appeared to be favoured for a medal, but never seemed to play with much passion. As the Canadian broadcasters pointed out in their last game against Slovakia, in the dying minutes when Sweden called it's timeout, the coaches and players were not even talking to each other. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did not feel that the Quarterfinal matchup against Slovakia was his best game. True, but Sweden never really showed that it wanted to repeat as Gold Medallists.
6 - (PR 3) Russia
Russia lived up to its reputation as an enigma. The country, the hockey team, even the individual players. Russia toyed with Latvia and the Czechs, couldn't beat Slovakia, and was completely and utterly anihilated by the Canadians. In the most hyped hockey game in the past 5-10 years, Canada simply destroyed Russia in all facets of the game. Questions will be asked. Apparently Coach Bykov said something to the effect of "Let's get the guillotine or the gallows out, yeah? We have 35 people in the squad. Let’s cut them all up on Red Square.”
7 - (PR 7) Czech Republic
The Czechs had an up and down tournament. Escaped with a win against the Slovaks, and a decent showing in a loss to the Russians. They barely hung on to beat Latvia, and were outclassed in a shutout at the hands of Finland. Having Hemsky would have helped, and Jagr had a nice tournament, but at the end of the day, Havlat and others did not do enough.
8 - (PR 8). Switzerland
The Swiss definitely seem to be in a class of their own - the middle class. Not quite as good as any of the teams above, but clearly a level above those below, the Swiss performed admirably, pushing the Canadians to the limit and making it to the Quarter-finals against the USA.
9 - (PR 9). Belarus
Belarus beat Germany, and gave the Swiss a scare in the Qualification round. They never showed much in the tournament when it came to upsetting one of the big boys.
10 - (PR 10). Germany
The Germans disappointed at this tournament. Never really threatening to upset anyone, and they lost to Belarus. Goal scoring was absent, and goaltending did not keep them in many games.
11 - (PR 11). Norway
Norway showed some feisty habits and pushed Switzerland to the limit. But in the end, too many blowouts to warrant anything better than 11th.
12 - (PR 12). Latvia
Their tournament produced a spirited but sloppy effort against the Russians. They showed lots of heart but were simply out-skilled. Taking the Czechs to the wire will be their biggest achievement here.