Almost that time
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It may not seem like it but we're getting closer.

How close?

We're exactly 38 days away from the start of Olympic hockey. The first game of the tournament will feature the Czech Republic and Sweden at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in downtown Sochi.

You better believe I'm excited. And a bit frazzled if I'm being honest. That only gives me about five weeks to perfect my Al Michaels impression ("Do you believe in miracles?! YES!!!").

The Olympics are going to be awesome, even if Canada does break my heart again (and you know they will). But for some, this two-week Russian hockey extravaganza may come at a price.

Three hundred hockey players competed in the 2010 Games in Vancouver and we'd expect a similar number this time around. The USA has already announced its 25-man roster while the other squads are expected to do the same in the coming days.

Unlike Olympic basketball, the Olympics fall during hockey's regular season, which means the NHL will be on a two and a half week hiatus from February 9th to the 25th. Each team will play 25 more games before the regular season wraps up on April 13th.

Depending on how their teams do, playing in the Olympics could potentially add seven more games on top of the 82 all NHL teams are already required to play. The question is, do the extra seven games really make a difference?

Well it depends on who you're asking. Most skaters would tell you the extra games don't have much of an effect. In fact, many recent Olympians have benefited from their time overseas.

Take Sidney Crosby, for example. Back in 2010 when he led his native Canada to their second gold medal in eight years, Crosby delivered 51 goals and 58 assists in 81 regular season contests for the Penguins. In 20 games after his two-week stay in Vancouver, Crosby posted nine goals and 22 assists, an average of 1.55 ppg. That was actually better than the 1.28 ppg he averaged prior to the Olympics (42 goals, 36 assists in 61 games).

Ryan Kesler, who represented the United States in 2010, was another player who saw his production rise after the games ended. He averaged exactly a point per game upon his return from Vancouver (0.89 ppg in his previous 61 games).

Four years prior to that, Alex Ovechkin was playing for Team Russia in Italy during the 2006 Olympics. Russia didn't end up winning a medal and maybe the sting of losing gave Ovechkin some extra motivation heading into the NHL's final stretch. He finished his regular season with the Capitals by scoring 15 goals and assisting on 20 others, all in a 25-game span. That torrid stretch (1.4 ppg) represented a modest improvement over what he produced earlier in the season (1.27 ppg in his first 56 games).

While others, including Jarome Iginla and Jonathan Toews (both on Team Canada in 2010), saw their performance slip a little after the games, the difference was hardly noticeable. Iginla's ppg average fell from 0.94 to 0.6 post- Olympics while Toews regressed from 1.07 to 0.9 ppg.

Of course, Toews was only 21 when he laced up his skates for Team Canada in that year's Olympics. Veterans, especially those in their mid to late 30s, might be more susceptible to getting worn out than a younger player like Toews.

Logical as that may seem, elder statesmen Brett Hull and Teemu Selanne both disproved that theory by playing better AFTER the Olympics. At the tender age of 37, Team USA captain Hull notched an incredible eight goals and ten assists in his 20 games following the '02 Olympics.

Selanne, who was 35 when he starred for Finland in 2006, was just as sensational. He racked up 36 points in his final 25 games after the Olympics. Swedish right wing Daniel Alfredsson continued this trend by knocking in nine goals and 21 assists after his return from the '06 games.

And in a way, it makes sense. After spending two weeks going up against the best players in the world, the NHL must feel like a breeze. Which led me to believe maybe the fatigue doesn't set in until the following season.

Turns out, I was wrong. Kesler set a new career-high in goals (41) the season after participating in the 2010 games. Toews of Team Canada displayed similar improvement (76 points in 2010-11 versus 68 in his Olympic season).

Hull, Iginla, Kesler, Selanne and Ovechkin all played in 82 games the year after competing in the Olympics, further disproving the myth of an Olympic hangover.

But alas, the Olympics hasn't been as kind to our mask-wearing brethren. Since 2002 (and probably way before that if I had bothered to check), almost every goalie who has played in the Olympics has struggled afterwards.

Swedish netminder Henrik Lundqvist burst onto the scene with a brilliant performance en route to a gold medal in 2006. Unfortunately, when he came back to the Rangers, he wasn't nearly as sharp. Lundqvist limped to a .897 save percentage the rest of the way after saving almost 93 percent of his shots before he left for the Olympics.

While Lundqvist's struggles after the Olympics may be the most dramatic we've seen, Mike Richter and Ryan Miller were not immune to the dreaded post-Olympic slump. Richter only saved 89.1 percent of his shots after losing to Canada in the 2002 gold medal game. He had been stopping shots at a rate of 90.9 percent prior to the '02 Games. Miller, on the other hand, watched his save percentage fall from .930 to .922 after manning the net for Team USA in 2010.

That has to be a little frightening for Jonathan Quick, who was just selected as USA's starter between the pipes earlier this week.

But for fantasy owners, that's still over a month away. And then it will be two weeks of hockey bliss followed by four years of waiting for it to start all over again.

Guess we should enjoy it while it lasts, huh?




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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