Twenty-four NHL games that could change the Vancouver Games

Seldom has three nights in mid-season meant so much

Ryan Getzlaf nailed down a spot on the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team on New Year’s Eve. But the rugged centre will be trying out all over again this weekend as his Anaheim Ducks take a swing through Alberta, playing the Calgary Flames on Saturday and the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

Getzlaf’s participation in the Games has been in jeopardy since he sprained his left ankle in a game Monday against the Los Angeles Kings. He took a spin on it yesterday for about five minutes, and told the Orange County Register he was making progress. But that won’t be enough to satisfy Steve Yzerman, the executive director of Team Canada, who must name his final roster for the Games on Monday (and who knows a thing or two about playing injured).

Getzlaf must show the joint can withstand the rigours of a game or he’ll be replaced by Jeff Carter of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The 24-year-old’s trial run is just part of a packed NHL weekend that fans and Olympic team managers alike will watch with a blend of anxiety and anticipation, knowing the high-flying stars about to play for their country are one wrong turn away from injury that could rearrange their line-ups. Seldom have 24 games over three nights in mid-season meant so much.

The Chicago Blackhawks, like the Ducks, have three players on Team Canada (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews), and they too must play a pair of games before the Olympic break (Atlanta and Columbus). The Pittsburgh Penguins play a pair of tough ones against the New York Rangers and Nashville, and while they have only one player on the Canadian side, his name happens to be Sidney Crosby. ‘Nuff said.

The good news for Yzerman? The San Jose Sharks trio of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley plays just once, against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Russians are not quite in the same boat. Yes, key players like Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens and Sergei Gonchar of Pittsburgh are on the ice twice more before the Games begin. But fully nine of the players on their current roster play back home in the Kontinental League, which broke for the Olympics on Wednesday. And the all-important troika from the Washington Capitals—Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and goaltender Semyon Varlamov—play only once this weekend, on Saturday against St. Louis.

A more intriguing question surrounding the Russians is whether coach Vyacheslav Bykov will try to make non-injury related changes to his roster before the first games on Tuesday. The teams were required to name provisional squads before the end of the year. While American and Canadian managers interpreted the tournament rules to mean they could only sub players in a case of injury, Bykov figures he can do so for whatever reason he pleases, including the recent performance of players—and the International Ice Hockey Federation appears to agree.

More on that later.