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?

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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.

Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, takes a drink during a time out against the Arizona Coyotes in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 7, 2016, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

“We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.

Toffoli unlikely to join Kings on road trip

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Tyler Toffoli #73 of the Los Angeles Kings gets a shot on Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Staples Center on December 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings will have to keep on keeping on without Tyler Toffoli.

Toffoli has not played since Dec. 20 due to a lower-body injury, and head coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t expect the sniper will join the Kings for their upcoming road trip.

“It was four weeks yesterday,” Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We thought he’d be further ahead. Once we came back and had the doctor’s evaluation we were told a three-to-six week time frame, so yesterday was four weeks, so we thought he’d be a little further ahead, but at the same time, there’s a fine line between the healing and the training. I think Tyler’s pushing hard and we want him back. We were hoping to have him for sure on this next trip, so that doesn’t appear to be the case right now because he hasn’t had any skating or practicing.”

Toffoli did actually hit the ice for a skate this morning, but there remains no timetable for his return.

Without Toffoli, the Kings have been leaning heavily on Jeff Carter to score. Carter has a team-high 23 goals; Tanner Pearson is next with 13, followed by Toffoli with eight.

Read more: Kings still don’t have timetable for Toffoli’s return 

Los Angeles hosts San Jose tonight, then hits the road for five games starting Saturday in Brooklyn. A poor trip and the Kings — currently holding down the second wild-card spot, but only barely — could find themselves on the outside looking in.

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Goalie nods: Pavelec to make season debut for Jets

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Goalie Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets looks on during a break in the action as he defends the goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s come to this for the Winnipeg Jets.

Undone all year by shaky netminding from Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, the Jets finally saw enough this week and recalled veteran Ondrej Pavelec from the AHL.

Tonight, Pavelec makes his season debut when the Jets host the Coyotes at the MTS Centre.

Waived just prior to the start of the regular season, Pavelec — in the final year of a much-maligned five-year, $19.5 million contract — passed through unclaimed and was dispatched to Manitoba, where he’s performed reasonably well.

The 29-year-old posted a .917 save percentage in 18 games and, while that’s hardly the stuff of legend, his play was steadily improving prior to his recall. On Sunday, he stopped 42 of 43 shots in a win over Chicago.

The big question, of course, is if Pavelec can show some consistency, which he’s always lacked at the NHL level. He went 13-13-4 with a .904 save percentage last season, and his career save rate is just .907.

For the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in goal.

Elsewhere…

Matt Murray, fresh off allowing seven goals in a win over Washington, goes for the Pens in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who’s struggled lately and has just an .886 save percentage in January.

Jared Coreau has two shutouts in his last four start for Detroit, so the Wings will go back to him tonight when they host the B’s. Tuukka Rask, hooked in Monday’s ugly loss to the Isles, goes for Boston.

Roberto Luongo gets the night off after Florida lost in Calgary last night, meaning James Reimer goes in Edmonton. The Oilers will go with Cam Talbot, who’s embracing his heavy workload this season.

— Speaking of heavy workloads, Martin Jones will be back in for the Sharks tonight, as they travel to Los Angeles. He’ll be up against Peter Budaj.

Don’t expect a full-scale rebuild in Detroit

Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
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Don’t expect the Detroit Red Wings to tear it down and start over. Even if they miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990 — which appears likely at this point — GM Ken Holland has no intention of changing course.

“We’re going to continue to try and be competitive, we’re going to continue to try and make the playoffs and our ultimate goal is to eventually be a Cup contender,” Holland said today, per MLive.

The long-time GM added that having veterans like Henrik Zetterberg and Jonathan Ericsson around to guide the younger players was key to maintaining the culture of the Red Wings.

The Wings aren’t the only team that’s opted for a rebuild-on-the-fly model. The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks are also attempting similar transitions.

“To me, rebuild means eight to 10 years, and there are teams that have made the playoffs one year in 10 while rebuilding,” said Holland.

And that’s simply not something the Wings are willing to risk. So they’ll keep at it their own way, just trying to win every game they can.

Related: Sedin says a ‘winning culture’ is important to maintain