The men who will wear the red, white and blue of Team USA at the Sochi Olympics have been sporting a lot of black and blue this season.
Injuries have clouded the medal prospects for the Americans, who will bring back the core of a team that won the silver medal at Vancouver in 2010. Those injuries have also made it difficult to predict whose names will be called when the 25-player roster is announced Wednesday, after the nationally televised Winter Classic game.
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick hasn't played since he sustained a groin injury Nov. 12, though he's expected back the first week of January. Minnesota left wing Zach Parise has been troubled by a sore foot for nearly a month and is on injured reserve. Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin suffered a broken leg Nov. 25 and it's uncertain when he will return. Projected third goalie Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings was to return Monday after missing nearly three weeks because of a sprained left knee.
That said, here's what the U.S. roster is likely to be: (Canada and other participants are expected to announce their picks closer to the Jan. 7 deadline set by the International Ice Hockey Federation.)
Goal: (3) Quick, Buffalo's Ryan Miller, Howard.
Quick's groin injury created anxiety for Team USA executives but they place great weight on his 2012 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe performances. Vancouver silver medalist Miller, who ranks among the NHL leaders with a .927 save percentage, has played well for a bad team. Howard, hampered by hand and knee injuries this season, is a USA Hockey loyalist and solid No. 3. Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop (1.89 goals-against average, .935 save percentage) has a good gripe if he's not chosen.
Defense: (8) Count on Minnesota's Ryan Suter, St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk and the New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh. Also Martin if he's fit and Pittsburgh's Orpik, just back from a concussion. Cam Fowler of the Ducks deserves a spot because his overall game has solidified and his skating skills are ideal for wider international rinks. Washington's John Carlson is a strong candidate. The last spot could go to Colorado's Erik Johnson, Columbus' Jack Johnson or Phoenix's Keith Yandle. Carolina's Justin Faulk and Nashville's Seth Jones might have to wait until 2018.
Forwards: (14) The centers figure to be St. Louis' David Backes, Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, San Jose's Joe Pavelski and Colorado's Paul Stastny, with the Rangers' Derek Stepan as a spare forward.
The team's strength is on the right side, with Chicago's Patrick Kane — the top scoring U.S. player in the NHL, with 23 goals and 53 points in 41 games — Toronto's Phil Kessel, Ottawa's Bobby Ryan and Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, though Callahan hasn't played since he sustained a sprained left knee Dec. 7. Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler and St. Louis' T.J. Oshie are in the mix, and Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo merits serious consideration for his 14 goals and 37 points in 40 games.
Parise is a lock on the left side, though his foot injury is worrisome. Kings captain Dustin Brown, a right wing who has played the left side most of the past two seasons, is sure of a spot because his role in the leadership group eclipses his scoring struggles. Toronto's James van Riemsdyk will be there — probably on a line with Kessel — and Montreal's Max Pacioretty has held team executives' interest. Chicago's Brandon Saad (13 goals, 29 points in 41 games), recently moved from the left side to the right recently, has an outside chance.
NBC Sports producer Sam Flood loves the weather predictions for Ann Arbor, Mich., site of the Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
"The Wednesday forecast is 19 degrees of a high with a 60% chance of precipitation, which is going to be snow flurries and snow showers," Flood said Monday. "So the snow globe effect could be in full effect come New Year's Day, with 110-some-odd-thousand people around a beautiful sheet of ice."
That's not quite the atmosphere that will prevail at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25, when the Kings and Ducks launch the Stadium Series, but this way the NHL will get its beloved wintry backdrops now and some palm trees later.
Play-by-play announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick and analyst Ed Olczyk will work at ice level Wednesday, which should provide an interesting perspective.
The U.S. women's Olympic team will be introduced during the second intermission. The men's team will be announced afterward, with youngsters standing in for those players not at Michigan Stadium.
The Bruins might be looking for a defenseman after Dennis Seidenberg suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee last Friday, which will require six to eight months' recovery. The New York Rangers reportedly are willing to trade Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi, but would they deal within the conference? .... The Blues put Alex Steen on injured reserve because of a concussion, and that's a big concern. Steen, who had 38 points in 35 games, missed almost half of the 2011-12 season because of a concussion. .... The Maple Leafs and defenseman Dion Phaneuf are near agreement on a seven-year, $49-million contract extension. The holdup reportedly centers on the inclusion of a no-trade clause.