Russia Kovalchuk Hockey

Kovalchuk doesn’t see Olympics as chance for KHL to prove itself

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SOCHI, Russia — Ilya Kovalchuk may have “retired” from the NHL to play in the KHL, but he doesn’t see the upcoming Olympic tournament as two leagues pitted against each other, and he doesn’t see it as a way for the fledgling, mostly-Russian league to prove its worth against the more established one in North America.

“It’s two great leagues. It doesn’t matter where anybody plays,” Kovalchuk said Sunday in Sochi, where he practiced with the KHL members of the Russian national squad. (The NHLers arrive Monday.)

“We’re here as a team, and nobody cares where you play. We’re here for a mission. I don’t want to show anybody anything. I just have to be myself and try to play my game.”

Kovalchuk’s game is offense. The 30-year-old winger has 16 goals and 24 assists this season for SKA Saint Petersburg, his 40 points ranking him first on the team and ninth in the league.

Not that North American hockey fans need to be told that Kovalchuk is a dangerous scorer; his 417 goals with the Thrashers and Devils were proof of that.

As for some of the other KHL players on the Russian roster, specifically the ones who’ve never played in the NHL? Well, Kovalchuk didn’t want to provide a scouting report for those who may not be familiar.

“They’ll see in a couple of days,” he said. “The Olympics are going to start, and I’m pretty sure they’ll find some names who they’re going to follow after the Olympics.”

But unlike some analysts have forecasted, Kovalchuk doesn’t believe the KHLers in the tournament will have a significant advantage over the NHLers when it comes to playing on the bigger international ice. By the time the games start to matter, he predicts everyone will have adjusted.

“It’s a little different game, the bigger ice, so you’ve got to skate more,” he said. “Physically, you’ve got to be better prepared than playing on a small rink, but we’ll see.”

Russia plays its first game Thursday versus Slovenia before a pair of tougher preliminary-round match-ups versus the United States (Saturday) and Slovakia (Sunday).

PHT Morning Skate: Sharks name stray cat after captain Joe Pavelski

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–The stray cat that ran onto the ice prior to Game 1 between the Sharks and Preds has been named after Joe Pavelski. (Associated Press)

–Speaking of that black cat, here’s a mountain of pucks shaped like the cat. (The Score)

–When Lukas Head was younger, he played with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Here’s his story. (Toronto Star)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery. (Canadian Press)

–Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sharon Szabados loves curing and the Oilers and she was forced to make a tough choice on Saturday. (Sportsnet)

Pascal Dupuis, who was named one of the Masterton Trophy finalists, is adjusting to retirement. (NHL.com)

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta