Ranking the best Olympic special teams

Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby play big minutes for the NHL's leading power play. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

One of the challenges of succeeding in a short tournament like the Olympics is getting immediate success on special teams. Not only do you need to develop chemistry and timing in short order, you also have to quickly straighten out things like terminology.

“It has to be simple,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said when we chatted on Monday. “We as coaches have terminology for certain things. If the players hear it and don’t understand it, there’s no success.”

There’s an advantage for teammates or even entire teams whose players have familiarity with one another, which is one of the reasons Switzerland had as many or more power-play goals in the 2010 Winter Olympics than both Russia and Sweden. The Swiss clicked at an impressive rate of 36.4 percent on the power play in 2010.

“The [IIHF World Junior Championships] prove it every year,” McLellan said. “Those countries have played together on a more regular basis. They feel a little better about doing things because they’ve done them together more often.”

That alone won’t win you a medal, but there’s no doubt that games in Sochi will hinge on special-teams play.

Here’s a look at the top five special-teams units headed to Russia:

1. Team Canada

2010 PP: 26.9 percent (No. 4)

PK: 89.5 percent (No. 1)

A little lost in the debate over Chris Kunitz's selection to the Canadian Olympic team is his ability to help the Team Canada power play. Not that they need it. Kunitz is second in the NHL in power-play goals with 11, and no other Team Canada member is in double digits. Kunitz (3:26) and Sidney Crosby (4:05) both see significant time on the No. 1 power play in the NHL.

If familiarity is a factor, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp should see time together on the Team Canada power play. Both are key members of Chicago’s PP, which is No. 4 in the NHL. Defensemen P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty all should get a look for the Canadian power play. Part of the argument for keeping Jeff Carter and Patrick Marleau over other more offensive options on the wing is their ability to pitch in on the Canadian PK. McLellan said Marleau’s speed is an asset there.

“He has the ability to disrupt up the ice,” he said of the Sharks left winger. “If they’re going to be a chase-it-up-the-ice group, Patty is really going to be good at it.”

Another Shark, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, should contribute to the Canadian PK. “He has great anticipation skills,” McLellan said. “And very good stamina. What I mean by that, he has the ability to get caught out there [on the PK] and still be able to think and execute.”

Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Dan Hamhuis and the Blues duo on defense of Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo also give Canada an edge over every country on the PK.