The preliminary round at the Sochi Olympics features three groups of four teams that will play each other once. The team with the best record from each group, as well as the top second-place team, will earn a bye into the medal round. The eight remaining teams will be reseeded and play single-elimination matches to determine the rest of the medal-round bracket.
The groups are split evenly, each with medal contenders as well as teams just hoping to stay competitive. We projected all the teams based on Hockey Prospectus' goals versus threshold (GVT) metric to determine where they'd finish. But what are the toughest matchups for the top teams in the opening round? Which games have the potential for an upset?
Let's have a look:
GVT projection: Fourth
Key matchup: Slovakia, Feb. 16
The Russians have an incredibly talented top six, which features the NHL's top goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, and a supporting cast of elite forwards, including Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. The home club, however, will not have a cakewalk to the playoff round. In 2010, Slovakia shocked Sweden in the most stunning upset of the tournament.
Against Slovakia, Russia's scorers will match up with a strong defense and several solid two-way forwards in Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and up-and-comer Tomas Tatar. Even so, the Russians' scoring depth and goaltending is likely too much. Plus, two Slovak players who might have evened the playing field -- Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky -- will sit out with injuries.
GVT projection: Second
Key matchup: Russia, Feb. 15