Team Russia Preview
With Russia being the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics expectations are running high for the team. Expectations should be high for this team. Having the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Andrei Markov , Pavel Datsyuk and many other amazing players . But other than the all stars that crowd the lineup there are some other reasons that make Russia a deadly team and a favorite for gold. But first here is the lineup.
- Sergei Bobrovsky G Columbus Blue Jackets
- Alexander Eremenko G Moscow Dynamo
- Semyon Varlamov G Colorado Avalanche
- Anton Belov D Edmonton Oilers
- Denis Denisov D CSKA Moscow (KHL)
- Alexei Emelin D Montreal Canadiens
- Andrei Markov D Montreal Canadiens
- Evgeny Medvedev D Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
- Nikita Nikitin D Columbus Blue Jackets
- Ilya Nikulin D Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
- Fedor Tyutin D Columbus Blue Jackets
- Vyacheslav Voynov D Los Angeles Kings
- Artem Anisimov F Columbus Blue Jackets
- Pavel Datsyuk F Detroit Red Wings
- Denis Kokarev F Moscow Dynamo (KHL)
- Ilya Kovalchuk F SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
- Nikolai Kulemin F Toronto Maple Leafs
- Evgeni Malkin F Pittsburgh Penguins
- Alex Ovechkin F Washington Capitals
- Alexander Popov F Omsk Avangard (KHL)
- Vladimir Tarasenko F St. Louis Blues
- Alexei Tereshchenko F Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
- Viktor Tikhonov F St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)
Russia has a lethal offense and is best known for it. Of course you have the likes of the all stars like: Malkin, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and to name a few. Then you have other NHL players that fly under the radar like Nikolai Kulemin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Artem Anisimov . All of those players are good players. Now all of us in North America know how dangerous the NHL players are but how about the KHL players? They have the potential to be even more deadly than some of the NHL players. But one player as a Team Canada fan that I am scared of the most in the forward core is: Ilya Kovalchuk. Now a lot of you might be thinking, What? The guy that quit on the NHL? How is he one of the most dangerous players on their team? Well let me answer those questions for you guys.
Ilya Kovalchuk did leave the NHL to go play in his home country. Now they are using the same types of rinks that they use in the KHL for the Winter Olympics. Now every KHL player on that team is comfortable with this ice surface, they know how fast they have to go and they know how to get around it. Meanwhile NHL and North American players are used to smaller rinks and using different amounts of speed since it’s a smaller surface. Bigger ice surface = More need for speed and endurance. Not only does Kovalchuk have that knowledge of the ice surface and how fast he needs to go, but at the same time he has NHL experience that is always an advantage. Now put his experience for playing for both leagues (KHL and NHL) and put it together and you have a player that know how a lot of the players in the tournament play and a player that is comfortable playing on the big ice surface. Thus you have the Kovalchuk theory.
Some side notes for the offense is more players that follow the Kovalchuk theory. Probably the only player to be more dangerous than Kovalchuk is Evgeni Malkin. You have the player that won the Ted Lindsay, Art Ross and Hart trophy only a few season ago. Not to mention he has be amazing for the penguins this year. On top of his amazing NHL performance he also has experience playing on the big ice surface like Kovalchuk. Malkin played on Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL during the lockout on a line with Nikolai Kulemin (who I’ll get to in a second) and was pretty good. Malkin had 23 goals in 37 games and had 58 points all together. That is just mind blowing but then again it’s Malkin. Another side note is Nick Kulemin. I am going to keep it brief with him, but as a leafs fan I find that Kulemin has gone from a goal scorer into a defensive minded forward. But for some reason he seems to perform better offensively on that big ice surface in Russia. I find it amazing that he can change so much as a player on a different ice surface (or maybe it’s just that he’s playing in his home country) but whatever it is it’s great for Russia and their chances of winning.
Russia has a great defensive core, but not the best. Now any team with the duo of Andrei Markov and Alexi Emelin is doing pretty good on defense already. Then you add Slava Voynov and Nikita Nikitin and your lineup is looking pretty good. Of course not to exclude the KHL players, Medvedev has won a gold medal at the World Championships and has a decent plus minus. Ilya Nikulin is a much better player and is NHL worthy looking at his International Stats. He has 26 points in 66 games, success wise Nikulin has three gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze. All of them coming in the World Championships though so you never know, because the Olympics and the World Championships are different.
But I can’t say for the other players since I haven’t see a lot for the other player but I can only assume that they are just as good.
Bobrovsky being the reining Vezina Trophy winner he is an obvious pick. Varlamov (in my opinion) he should be number two but he get’s number three instead. Bobrovsky has been decent, not amazing but not terrible. Their goal tending might be their weakest link of their entire lineup. Bobrovsky being a risky and being the definite starter but not the same form he has been in his Vezina season (beating out Martin Brodeur). Most Olympic teams have either a sure number one/all star goalie or two goalies that are amazing or just flat out phenomenal. Canada has Price and Luongo, Sweden has Lundqvist, USA has Miller and Quick, the Czech Republic are going to have to rely on Ondrej Pavelec and so on.
This may be a weak spot but with Russia’s dynamite offense and experienced defense this might not be a huge problem but will be a weak spot. But you never know, Bobrovsky could be lights out or their KHL goalie Eremenko could be the guy. But all teams, espically in the Olympics, need good goal tending to survive.
A side note is the rink, maybe Eremenko could give the Russians an edge with puck movement/ puck control goalie wise. If Eremenko know the rinks the way Luongo knew the rink back in Vancouver (playing for the Canucks and playing in the Rogers center for a lot of his carrier) maybe the same will apply for the Russians.
Some big ones are Alex Semin, Sergi Gonchar, Anton Volchenkov and youngster Nail Yakupov. Now I thought Gonchar was going to be a sure thing, his veteran present and leadership alongside Markov would make a great defense. Obviously I was wrong! Volchenkov and Yakupov were bubble players for me. Volchenkov’s play has been sub-par these past few years. Meanwhile Yakupov has been absolutely terrible for the disappointing Oliers. Yakupov would be a last second decision for me, his play just hasn’t been that good for Olympic standers. But for next Olympics I see Yak making it but for now he needs some development and Dallas Eakins will do that (used to be in Toronto.) Semin was a bubble player but I thought he would make it knowing that he used to have chemistry with Alex Ovechkin. But I guess that wasn’t enough for him.
Russia is a medal favorite for me, with the home ice advantage throughout the tournament and the “Kovalchuk theory” many already crazy good players get even more deadly. I predict that Russia will get either a Bronze or a Silver on home soil. I expect great things from this over powered team but just not gold. Not with that goal tending. But hey maybe they will surprise me with a Gold Medal. It’s possible, Canada did it back in Vancouver maybe Russia can do it in Sochi? Who know will find out in February!