Slovakia goaltender Jaroslav Halak reacts after giving up a third period goal to Slovenia during a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Is Slovakia on the decline as a hockey nation?


Four years ago, the Slovaks were the Cinderella Story. They beat Russia and Sweden en route to a fourth place finish in the Olympics.

And yet, as surprising as that was, it didn’t come out of nowhere. They were a team with quite a few talented NHL players leading the charge. To compare them to the nation they just suffered a 3-1 loss to, Slovenia, which has only one NHLer in Anze Kopitar, would be inaccurate.

Slovakia wasn’t a hockey powerhouse, but they weren’t far from it either. Times have changed though. It’s true that the Slovaks were dealt a bad hand when they lost Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky to injuries, but their problems extend beyond that.

“We had different players (in the 2010 Olympics),” Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak said, per the Olympic News Service. “We were younger. Everybody’s four years older right now and the time is catching up with everybody.

“If you look at the roster four years ago we had really good hockey players that were in their prime. It is hard to replace them.”

And that lies at the heart of Slovakia’s problems. Its best are aging and a new generation hasn’t been able to take their place yet. There are just four Slovak players in the NHL who are 26 or younger. Of them, only Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar has played in more than 40 contests this season.

Back in 2005, eight players from Slovakia were drafted and it was 10 in each of the 2003 and 2004 NHL Entry Drafts. By comparison, only 21 Slovak players have been selected by NHL teams from 2006-2013.

“We have no one young coming up, but we have to play with what we have,” Halak admitted.

Until that changes, Slovakia will have a hard time living up to its past success.

Campbell’s perfect snipe sinks Wings in OT

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Brian Campbell doesn’t score as many points as he used to, but he came up with a huge goal against the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

With the game tied, 1-1, in overtime, Campbell skated into the slot and beat Petr Mrazek with a perfect wrister to end the game.

It was also a pretty nice passing play between Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Campbell.

Dylan Larkin opened the scoring in the second period before Reilly Smith leveled the score with just over five minutes remaining.

The Wings have blown a lead in three straight games.

Detroit was up 2-0 and 3-2 in their last game, against Edmonton, before they finally closed the game out with an overtime goal by Niklas Kronwall.

They weren’t so fortunate against the Bruins on Wednesday, as they lost 3-2 in OT after leading 2-1 with under two minutes remaining in regulation.

This was the first meeting of the season between Detroit and Florida, but they’ll see each other three times between Feb. 4 and Mar. 19.

With Jonathan Bernier sputtering, we’ll meet Garret Sparks

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You can’t blame Mike Babcock for siding with the relatively unknown when the other option is Jonathan Bernier, a goalie who’s 0-8-1 so far in 2015-16.

With that in mind, meet Garret Sparks, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ expected starter for Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Sparks was a seventh-round pick (190th overall) in 2011, a guy who was off to a great start in the AHL. That much wasn’t lost on Babcock.

Let’s face it, though; this is as much about the Leafs’ other two goalies as it is about Sparks (whose name inspired a very obscure reference in this post’s headline).

In Bernier’s case, there’s an “enough’s enough” feel:

Meanwhile, James Reimer‘s not quite healthy enough to play yet, so the window of opportunity is open for Sparks … a little bit.

Sparks will get a chance to make an impression, even if it’s just a small one.

Video: Dylan Larkin adds to his rookie goals lead

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So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.

The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.

No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.

He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.

Latest report leaves Carey Price’s injury timeline fuzzy

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There’s one thing we seem to know about Carey Price‘s injury situation: he first got hurt stepping on a puck on Oct. 29, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Contrary to earlier reports about him missing about a month, it sounds like his window of recovery is still up in the air (which, to be fair, could mean that he’ll still miss about a month when it’s all said and done).

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Price underwent testing with Montreal’s team doctor on Saturday and is expected to go through more; we may not know more about his expected injury timeline until early this coming week.

So, basically, Price’s situation is fuzzier than his mustache right now.

Leg injuries can be tricky anyway, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are mixed signals regarding Price, and this may remain a fluid situation for some time.

(But we’ll hopefully know more soon enough.)