Ondrej Pavelec didn’t start in the Czech Republic’s first game of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Even though Pavelec has yet to really “find his stride” alongside the rest of the starting goaltenders in the NHL, his performances through the World Championships have been remarkable. He was instrumental in leading the Czechs to a bronze medal in the 2011 World Championships and he had another great tournament last year.
Jakub Kovar was given the first start while Pavelec watched from the stands. Kovar has great numbers over the past three seasons in the Czech league and in the KHL this season. Assuming that the Czech management wanted to see what Kovar could bring to the table, things didn’t work out so well for him. Kovar allowed 3 goals early in the the 4-2 loss to Sweden Wednesday before being pulled in the second period.
Ideally, the Czech Republic would probably love to have a healthy Tomas Vokoun for the Olympics, but he suffered a blood clot in September that has left him on the IR throughout the current season. Vokoun out-shined Marc Andre Fleury in the playoffs last season, taking over the starting job in the first round and leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Pavelec doesn’t have the same resume as Vokoun, but he is still a great option for the Czech Republic. In the last two World Championships he has played with a .938 save percentage or better.
The skaters in front of Pavelec will probably play a bigger role in the country’s success and failure. The average age of this roster is just under 30 years, which speaks volumes of the veteran leadership and presence, led by Jaromir Jagr. In his fifth Olympic appearance Jagr is still very capable, scoring 9 goals throughout including a goal in the loss to Sweden.
Vladimir Sobotka’s leg injury kept him off of the roster. Tomas Hertl, the rookie who was taking the NHL by storm, suffered an MCL tear which will likely sideline him for the rest of the season. Hertl was never named to the team, but one would expect that he was a lock before the injury. This finally led to Martin Erat getting the call to play for the Czech Republic. One would have to assume the Czechs were very reluctant to replace Erat with Sobotka or Hertl. The Czech management selected Petr Nedved, a 43 year-old who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2007, before Erat.
If you look at the forwards on the Czech roster, it appears that they have a well-rounded group. Even defensively they are led by a core of veteran NHL players including Zbynek Michalek, Michal Roszival, Marek Zidlicky and ex-NHL All-Star Tomas Kaberle.
The Czech Republic have a very good-looking roster. A lineup like this would certainly get you pretty far in NHL 14 and several of these players were on the 2006 team that won bronze in the Torino Olympics. However, some questions remain about the overall speed of the club. Will they really be able to keep up with the Russians and Canadians?
If they can’t, how Pavelec performs might be their only hope to medal in this year’s games.