The Dan Bylsma-coached United States men’s hockey team begins the Olympic tournament Thursday, so it’s no shock the Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss is sticking with familiarity to start.
After splitting up defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin for Team USA’s first practice Monday, Bylsma had his two Penguins back together on the same pairing Tuesday. The second practice session featured more situational work, so we can surmise Bylsma would like to keep Orpik and Martin in tandem for the United States’ Olympic opener against Slovakia, at least.
Bylsma seemed to confirm that thought to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic, saying that the two thirtysomethings would be together during five-on-five play and penalty-killing efforts. Ryan Suter-Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonagh-John Carlson and Cam Fowler-Justin Faulk were Team USA’s other defense pairings Tuesday. (Check out United States of Hockey for more on the Americans.)
It appears Orpik and Martin, who are often paired in Pittsburgh, will be used primarily as a defensive-minded duo. Bylsma has to be hoping that Martin’s skating and puck-possession prowess can meld with Orpik’s physicality to create a reliable entity on the larger international ice surface. Following its matchup with Slovakia, Team USA will battle Slovenia and host Russia in the preliminary round.
Elsewhere, there was a minor surprise in Canada’s camp, as Penguins winger Chris Kunitz was included on the top power play unit for the defending Olympic champions. Much like in Pittsburgh, Kunitz was stationed in front of the net while Sidney Crosby and John Tavares manned the other forward spots.
Kunitz was already a controversial selection for Team Canada, so his taking part in power play drills will only increase the scrutiny he faces in these Olympics. As expected, Kunitz was on Crosby’s left wing for line rushes Tuesday, with Los Angeles Kings sniper Jeff Carter getting a shot on the right side.
Speaking of impressive forward lines, Penguins star Evgeni Malkin centered Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin for the second straight day at Team Russia’s training session. Even considering all the hockey talent currently congregated in Sochi, that line could be the most gifted to take the ice this fortnight.