Zdeno Chara of Slovakia waves as he carries the flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Can Slovakia surprise again?

1 Comment

Not much was expected from Slovakia four years ago in Vancouver, and not much is expected heading into Sochi.

But if the Slovaks showed anything in 2010, it’s that expectations don’t mean much.

Despite star power in defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky and Zdeno Chara and forwards Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, and Marian Hossa, the team lacked the depth of the major powers and was put in a tough group in Vancouver (Russia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia). Slovakia turned a lot of heads though, beating the Russians in the group stage, edging Sweden 4-3 in the quarterfinals, then dropping hard-fought decisions to Canada and Finland in the semifinal and bronze medal games. The fourth-place finish marked Slovakia’s highest ranking since the NHL began sending players to the Olympics.

So…what will the Slovaks do for an encore?

Let’s put it this way — it would be a far bigger Cinderella story if they finished fourth this time around.

There are a few reasons for that. For one, their top scorer in 2010, Demitra, passed away tragically in the Lokomotiv air disaster. Gaborik, meanwhile, will miss the games due to a broken collarbone and the Slovaks don’t have anyone new on their roster to fill the offensive void, putting tremendous pressure on Hossa to essentially lead the charge on his own.

Slovakia will also be without Visnovsky, the Isles blueliner who returned from a concussion on Jan. 27, but doesn’t feel up to playing in the tournament. Consequently, Slovakia has just four NHL defenseman on the roster, though one of them — Andrej Sekera — is having a banner campaign.

Finally, as challenging as their ’10 group was, the Slovaks drew perhaps even tougher competition this time around as they’ll have to face both Russia and the United States. In the end, their only victory might be against Slovenia, which didn’t even qualify for the 2010 games and only has one NHLer in Anze Kopitar.

All hope isn’t lost, though. When Slovakia was surprising opponents in 2010, goaltender Jaroslav Halak was at the center of it. He turned aside 36 of 37 shots in regulation against Russia and finished with a tournament-high 173 saves.

Following the Vancouver Games, Halak carried the eighth seed Montreal Canadiens past the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010 playoffs with some spectacular goaltending performances.

He was traded to St. Louis that summer and while he’s had some good seasons with the Blues, injuries have prevented him replicating the playoff success he had as a Hab. This will be our first real chance to see if he’s truly a big game goaltender… or if it was just one magical year.

For his part, Halak doesn’t seem to think Slovakia’s success or failure will come down to him specifically.

“Hopefully we can get it together and play as a team,” Halak told IIHF.com. “We’ll see what happens. We have to play one game at a time. That should be the whole approach.”

So basically they need to be more than the sum of their parts — because when you do the math, they just don’t add up to much.

Kings GM says Mike Richards went into ‘a destructive spiral’

Mike Richards

The Los Angeles Kings may owe Mike Richards money until 2031 (seriously), but in settling his grievance, the team and player more or less get to turn the page.

Not before Kings GM Dean Lombardi shares his sometimes startling perspective, though.

Lombardi has a tendency to be candid, especially in the press release-heavy world of sports management. Even by his standards, his account of Richards’ “destructive sprial” is a staggering read from the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman.

“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now – and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”

Lombardi provides plenty of eyebrow-raising statements to Dillman, including:

  • He believed he “found his own Derek Jeter” in Richards, a player who “at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport.”
  • Lombardi remarked that “his production dropped 50 percent and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily.”
  • The Kings GM believes that he was “played” by Richards.

… Yeah.

Again, it’s a powerful read that you should soak in yourself, even if you’re unhappy with the way the Kings handled the situation.

Maybe the most pressing of many lingering questions is: will we get to hear Richards’ side of the story?

Coyotes exploit another lousy outing from Quick

Jonathan Quick

Despite owning two Stanley Cup rings, there are a healthy number of people who aren’t wild about Jonathan Quick.

Those people might feel validated through the Los Angeles Kings’ first two games, as he followed a rough loss to the San Jose Sharks with a true stinker against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday.

Sometimes a goalie has a bad night stats-wise, yet his team is as much to blame as anything else. You can probably pin this one on Quick, who allowed four goals on just 14 shots through the first two periods.

Things died down in the final frame, but let’s face it; slowing things down is absolutely the Coyotes’ design with a 4-1 lead (which ultimately resulted in a 4-1 win).


A soft 1-0 goal turned out to be a sign of things to come:

Many expected the Kings to roar into this second game after laying an egg in their opener. Instead, the Coyotes exploited Quick’s struggles for a confidence-booster, which included key prospect Max Domi scoring a goal and an assist.

It’s worth mentioning that Mike Smith looked downright fantastic at times, only drawing more attention to Quick’s struggles.


After a troubled summer and a failed 2014-15 season, Los Angeles was likely eager to start things off the right way.

Instead, they instead will likely focus on the fact that they merely dropped two (ugly) games.