4. The P.K. Subban factor will be fascinating to watch. The reigning Norris Trophy winner barely made this team. There was debate right up to the end on the eve of the Jan. 7 roster announcement, with internal discussion centered on whether to take Subban as the fourth right-handed blue-liner or Brent Seabrook. Subban was the winner of that debate. First, Canada is loaded on the right side of defense with Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo locked in as the top three on the right. So it was no easy feat making this team if you're Subban. Why the Habs star makes the Canadian coaching staff nervous is because of his odd defensive gaffe. On the flip side, I would argue no other defenseman on the team has Subban's momentum-changing, game-breaking ability in terms of the way he can rush the puck up the ice or find a seam with a blistering shot. Given's Canada's big-ice history, it may very well need to give Subban a chance if it needs a goal in a big game.
5. Ah yes, big ice. Canada looked like a deer in headlights the last time the Olympics were played on international-size ice in Torino (2006), crashing and burning and looking very much uncomfortable on the bigger sheet. To that end, much thought and preparation has been put into this very factor, right from the opening day of camp last August. It was the thing the most talked about by Babcock and his staff. It's why they picked a roster built for speed on the big ice; it's also why they brought in former Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger as a consultant. Krueger has been advising Babcock and the staff on the kind of systems that work better on big ice, and on how European countries play on big ice these days, making him very much the X-factor in Canada's preparation. Still, when all is said and done, Canada's NHL stars have almost no experience on the bigger ice, which is why they need to use their two opening games against weaker opponents (Norway and Austria) as scrimmages to get comfortable with the big ice.
Bonus thought: This is the first time since the historical 1972 Summit Series that Canada has sent its very best NHL players to Russia with so much on the line. It's something Wayne Gretzky always wishes he had had the chance to do -- play a best-on-best tournament in Russia just for the thrill and challenge of it. Sidney Crosby is very much aware of this special historic aspect of the Sochi Olympics, openly talking about the chance to create some new history for Canada in Russia for the first time since '72. Don't underestimate this part of it all for Crosby and company.
Breakthrough player to watch: John Tavares, New York Islanders
Well it's kind of hard to pick anyone on this all-star roster to "break through," but in the context of playing in the shadow of stars like Crosby and Toews, I'm betting big that Tavares will show the hockey world more than ever where he stands among the very best. He's going to rock this tournament.
I still harbor questions about Canada's ability to feel comfortable on big ice no matter how much preparation it made. But given Sweden's injury issues and the incredible pressure on host Russia, there's certainly a strong chance for gold here.