SOCHI, Russia -- How is the hockey at the Olympics different from that of the NHL? We've got the skinny scoop for you.
Question: Where are the officials from -- the NHL, the KHL or elsewhere? Who selected them?
Answer: There are 13 NHL officials here -- seven referees and six linesmen -- and the remaining 15 are from European leagues. The group is selected by the IIHF and NHL.
Q: What are some of the more noteworthy rules in the international game that differ from NHL rules?
A: Any contact with a high stick on an opposing player, incidental or not, is subject to a penalty call at the Olympics; in the NHL, some accidental high-sticking is permitted. Some of the obvious rule changes are no-touch icing and the absence of the NHL's trapezoid behind the nets that restricts goaltender movement. If a player loses his helmet during play in the Olympics, he must go directly to the bench, unlike the NHL, where a player may continue play. Any player born after Dec. 31, 1974, must wear a visor in the Olympics. Play is stopped if an attacking player stands in the goal crease in Olympic play, and the ensuing faceoff is taken outside the zone. Players who fight are subject to a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct in the Olympics.
Q: What are the dimensions of the international rink compared to the NHL rink, and what effect will that have on play?
A: The NHL rink size is 200 feet by 85 feet, while the Olympic rink is 15 feet wider, at 200 feet by 100 feet. The neutral zone is 8 feet longer with each defensive zone 4 feet shorter, which allows defending teams to cover point shots more quickly but conversely means shooters are much closer to the net when unleashing point shots. There is also an extra two feet between the goal line and the end boards compared to an NHL rink configuration, which places the net even closer to the blue line. The extra room in terms of the width of the ice provides a greater chance for defenders to be pulled out of position, allowing more passing/shooting lanes. Defensemen are less likely to pinch at the blue line for fear of being caught and allowing an odd-man rush.
Q: Do they use video replay in the international game?
A: Yes, the IIHF has a protocol for using video review to determine whether a goal is legal.
Q: How many players are teams allowed to carry and dress?
A: In the NHL, teams dress 18 skaters and two goalies, while at the Olympics teams can dress 20 skaters and two goalies. Most teams will dress 13 forwards and seven defensemen in Sochi.
Q: If a player is suspended for actions during the Olympics, does he sit out NHL games?
A: The NHL would honor a suspension if it extended beyond the Olympics, although it's never happened since the NHL began participating in the Olympics in 1998. Suspensions do carry over in international play. For example, Swedish defenseman Alex Edler will miss the first two games of the Sochi tournament for his hit on Canada's Eric Staal at the World Championships last spring.
Q: Which NHL team has the most Olympians?
A: The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have 10 Olympians each. (The St. Louis Blues also had 10, but lost Vladimir Sobotka to injury, so they now have nine participants.)
Q: Can NHL players not playing in the Olympics work out with their teams in North America?
A: Yes, but not until Feb. 19.
Q: What do most of the non-Olympians do during the break?
A: Judging by Twitter and other reports, a lot of NHL players take advantage of the break to head somewhere warm and sandy. Of course, those players with children will be enjoying an unusual extended spell of Daddy time at home.
Q: Which player has played in the most Olympics?
A: This is Teemu Selanne's sixth Olympic tournament. He first played in the 1992 Olympics and is the all-time leading scorer in the men's Olympic tournament with 37 points in 31 games.
Q: When did the Russians last win gold at the Olympics?
A: The Unified Team won the gold medal in 1992 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. That team was a combination of players from Russia and other former Soviet states. In the seven Olympic tournaments before 1992, the Soviet Union won six gold medals and a silver. That silver of course came in 1980, when they were upset in the medal round-robin competition by the U.S. "Miracle on Ice" team. (The gold medal in that tournament was awarded to the team with the most points in the final-round standings; there was no gold-medal game as there is today.)
Q: What is the format? How do teams advance to the medal round?
A: There are three groups of four teams, and each team plays all the teams in its grouping during the preliminary round. A regulation win is worth three points, overtime/shootout wins worth two points, overtime/shootout losses worth one point. The three group leaders in points and the team with the next best point total through the three preliminary games receive a bye to the quarterfinals. The remaining eight teams play qualification games, with 5 versus 12, 6 versus 11, 7 versus 10 and 8 versus 9 based on point totals. The four winners of those games play the four teams with the byes in the quarterfinals; those four winners play in the semifinals and the two winners there meet in the gold-medal game on the final day of the Olympics, with the losers in the semifinal games meeting for the bronze medal.
Q: What are the rules for overtime?
A: During the preliminary round, teams will play five minutes of four-on-four hockey followed by a shootout. In the initial three rounds of the shootout, teams must select three different players, but if the game is still tied through the first three shootout attempts, a coach can choose to use the same player, unlike the NHL, where new shooters must be used on each attempt. For elimination games, including the quarterfinals, semifinals and bronze-medal stage, teams will play 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime before the shootout stage. If the gold-medal game is tied at the end of regulation, the two teams will play 20 minutes of sudden-death overtime before moving to a shootout. All overtime competition is four-on-four.
Q: Who is favored and why?
A: Tough to pick one team: Host Russia, because of its high-end offensive talent; Canada, because of its incredible depth up front and along the blue line; the U.S., with its goaltending and balanced, dangerous forward group; and the Swedes, with top goaltending and an abundance of high skill at both forward and defense, are all good candidates. The fact neither Canada nor the U.S. has won a medal of any shade in the two previous tournaments held outside North America -- in 1998 in Nagano and in 2006 in Turin -- also prevents identifying a clear favorite.