Despite his legal woes, Semyon Varlamov
looks like Team Russia's best bet. (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
Each week, we'll rank the top contenders to man the pipes for Team USA and Team Canada in Sochi based on their play to date. This time, though, we're expanding our scope to include a look at the possible starters for Finland, Sweden and Russia. (All stats current as of Wed. Dec. 4)
"I'm trying not to think about it much," Miller told The Buffalo News. "In my mind it's just something I have to earn and a situation where I have to be at the top of my game to even be considered." Miller's clearly on point these days. No goalie has seen more quality rubber this season than Miller. Despite ranking just 15th in minutes played, he's fourth in both shots faced and saves. (Last week: 1)
Nothing new to report on Quick, who continues to convalesce while remaining the favorite of many observers to start in net for the U.S. (Last week: 2)
Bishop has dropped three of his past four starts, but he gave his team a chance to win all four while allowing just four goals in the process. If American GM David Poile is sincere in saying that this year's play will impact the selection process, Bishop has proved that he deserves the third spot. (Last week: 3)
Thomas picked a lousy night for an off-game. He gave up four goals on just 13 shots to Team USA coach Dan Bylsma's Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Still, there's thought that his past service to USA Hockey has him in the lead for the No. 3 job. (Last week: 5)
Schneider played well in back-to-back starts for the Devils, stopping 31 of 33 shots to lead New Jersey to wins over the Hurricanes and Sabres. He's allowed just five goals in his past five starts, but he's faced only 116 shots. That leaves him with a sweet .957 save percentage over that stretch, but also raises questions about whether he's seeing enough work. (Last week: 5)
Price ran his quality starts streak to eight with wins over the Sabres, Leafs and Devils during the past week. You can knock the value of thom, but remember: Canada's not playing Russia every game in Sochi. The guy between the pipes has to bring it against lesser competition, too, and Price is proving that he's on top of his game no matter the quality of the opponent. (Last week: 1)
Bobby Lu has a fan in Jersey, and it's not Cory Schneider. Martin Brodeur took to the airwaves to pump Luongo's tires, saying, "in my book, the No. 1 goaltending spot belongs to Roberto Luongo. It's his job to lose." (Last week: 2)
Starting to hear a lot more "Why not Crawford?" buzz around the league. Not that the sentiment suggests he should start for Canada, but his experience in last year's Cup run and his ability to win games while bearing the weight of high expectations makes him an ideal candidate. (Last week: 4)
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The NHL's Third Star of the Month for November made a strong return to the lineup, allowing just four goals in three games. He looked particularly sharp while shutting out the Flyers on Monday night, making a dazzling stop on Jake Voracek late in the game to preserve the lead. He may still be a long shot for a role in Sochi, but this hot start of his looks like the real thing. (Last week: NR)
Is the pressure of battling for a spot in Sochi getting to Smith? "I've been pressing a bit and trying to maybe play the perfect game, and it’s kind of affected the way I’ve played," he told The Arizona Republic this week. He looked solid in his 31-save win over the Oilers on Tuesday night, breaking a string of six straight games in which he struggled with his form, but time is running out for him to prove his case. (Last week: 4)
He's been Finland's most consistent netminder over the past two seasons. His tendency to let in the occasional softie will be overlooked in favor of his proven ability to steal big games.
A Stanley Cup winner with Chicago, he's been the model of stability with the Sharks and could assume the starting role.
3. Jussi Rynnas, Karpat (SM Liiga)
There's a sense that coach Erkka Westerlund would prefer to take a younger, locally-based keeper for the press box role, and Rynnas, the former Maple Leafs farmhand, is said to be the favorite. That would be a tough break for Kari Lehtonen, who deserves a shot at this team as much as anyone.
The star of the 2006 gold medal-winning team is a lock to start.
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He sealed his spot when he led Sweden to gold at the 2013 World Championships.
There are cases to be made for Detroit's Jonas Gustavsson and Anaheim's Viktor Fasth, but Lehner is perceived as the future of Team Sweden. The experience will be invaluable in his development.
1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
The assumption here is that his legal issues won't get in the way of his participation. If he's available, he's the easy choice, playing with confidence and technical precision like never before.
The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner hasn't consistently found that high level of play this season, and he had issues with the Russian federation last year concerning his role with the World Championship team. Even so, he was still Russia's second best option, but that's in question now that he'll be sidelined for four to five weeks due to a groin strain. How quickly can he regain his best form after he returns?
3. Konstantin Barulin, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)
The Russians are looking to fit KHLers into this roster wherever possible, and Barulin is both a safe and smart choice. He's tearing it up this season, with a 1.83 GAA and .942 save percentage, and he's performed well internationally in the past, winning both his starts at the 2012 Worlds as Russia claimed gold.