It’s early, but the U.S. has put together a sniper-filled line for Sochi.
Monday’s practice was highlighted by the Phil Kessel-James van Riemsdyk-Joe Pavelski trio, featuring three of the NHL’s top 20 goalscorers this season.
Kessel, second in the league with 31 tallies, looks as though he’ll retain his Toronto running mate van Riemsdyk for the Olympic tourney. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise — as we saw with Canada, teams are looking to utilize the chemistry built between teammates during the regular season (Sidney Crosby-Chris Kunitz, Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp and Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry were all paired at today’s Canadian skate.)
The interesting wrinkle in Sochi, though, will be Pavelski. The San Jose center is currently enjoying one of the best goalscoring campaigns of his career, with 29, putting him tied for fourth in the league with Getzlaf and just two back of Kessel as the top American scorer.
Amazingly, this means that van Riemsdyk — who has a career-high 24 goals already this season — is the lowest scorer on his line.
The other American forward lines were equally compelling. In keeping with the teammates theme, St. Louis forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie skated with team captain Zach Parise; Ryan Kesler centered Dustin Brown and Patrick Kane; Paul Stastny was between Max Pacioretty and Ryan Callahan while Derek Stepan and Blake Wheeler were the extras.
FYI: Brown and Kesler are less than a month removed from fighting each other…
UPDATE: The defensive pairings, per Sports Illustrated, are Cam Fowler-Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh-John Carlson, Kevin Shattenkirk-Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik-Justin Faulk.