Sidney Crosby

On Team Canada’s whirlwind arrival in Sochi

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SOCHI, Russia — The defending Olympic gold medalists arrived Monday in Sochi, and they came in waves.

In a matter of a couple of hours, Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman held a solo press conference, the players hit the ice at the Bolshoy Ice Dome for a practice, the players walked the media gauntlet they call the mixed zone, and the coaching staff, led by Mike Babcock, held a press conference too.

And after hundreds of questions and hundreds of answers, well, frankly, we didn’t learn a whole lot we didn’t already suspect.

Yes, there’s pressure, and that pressure will need to be managed. The players are more than capable of doing that.

Yes, the ice is bigger, and the players will need to make adjustments. They’re more than capable of that, too.

The facilities are just beautiful, the food is great, and everyone’s excited to be here. It won’t be easy to win gold again though. There are a lot of good teams in this tournament.

You get the picture.

We still don’t know who will start in goal for Team Canada, or who the healthy scratches will be. We got a glimpse at some possible line combinations — Jeff Carter on Sidney Crosby’s wing was pretty interesting — but those could all change.

Not that anyone should be surprised by today’s lack of real hard news or buzzworthy quotes. The real hard news will come soon enough, and nobody wants to say anything controversial, especially not on the first day. In 2010, American forward Ryan Kesler said “I hate them” when asked about Team Canada. He still hears about that one.

And it’s not like the coaching staff is about to openly discuss its plans. Why give up any secrets? Did we mention it won’t be easy to win gold?

If there was one comment with some teeth, it may have been Yzerman’s on whether it was worthwhile to keep bringing NHLers to the Olympics.

“You’re asking my opinion, my opinion is: absolutely,” he said. “I think this is fantastic for our league. We go back to the last year, and even beyond that, look how much attention this draws, how much conversation this draws, not only in Canada, but around the world. It promotes our league, it promotes our players. I believe it’s good for our game, I believe it’s good for the NHL.”

The NHL and NHLPA have yet to commit to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and there are good reasons to believe they ultimately won’t, despite pleas like Yzerman’s.

“It’s once every four years, I’m hopeful that we can continue,” he said. “I understand there are challenges for our league, and things that we’d like to improve upon with the NHL’s relationship with the IIHF, the IOC, but I think it’s good for our league, and I’m hopeful that we’ll stay.”

That’s a bigger discussion for another day though. Canada will practice again Tuesday and Wednesday before opening its Olympic tournament Thursday versus Norway.

“We’re getting settled, and it will be nice to get a bit of a routine started tomorrow,” said Crosby.

Pavel Datsyuk will not play for Russia vs. Canada

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 22:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of Russia skates against USA at Ice Palace on May 22, 2016 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk will not play for Russia on Saturday night against Canada in their semifinal World Cup game.

Datsyuk has been bothered by a lower body injury that also kept him out of their first round game against Finland. He had been a game-time decision leading up to the game, but did not take the ice for pre-game warmups.

It’s a big loss for Russia because Datsyuk is still their top-line center and had been skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Vladimir Tarasenko before the injury. He recorded two assists in his two games for Russia.

Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov will center that line instead.

If Russia does not beat Canada on Saturday we could have very likely seen the last of Datsyuk on a North American hockey rink. Datsyuk decided to leave the NHL to return to Russia after spending 14 years with the Detroit Red Wings during a career that saw him win two Stanley Cups and score 314 goals. He was one of the best two-way players in the NHL during his career and one of the best ever

The winner of Saturday’s game will play the winner of Sunday’s Sweden-Team Europe semifinal in a best of three championship series.

Ekblad back on the ice for Panthers after World Cup injury

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers had a bit of a scare during the 2016 World Cup when defenseman Aaron Ekblad, while playing for Team North America, was injured in a first-round game against Finland that kept him out for the remainder of the tournament.

On Saturday, Ekblad was back on the ice for the Panthers doing some individual workouts following the injury.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said, via Alain Poupart of NHL.com.  “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

It was initially reported that Ekblad had a concussion, but it was later reported to be a neck injury.

The Panthers haven’t been overly concerned with the injury over the past week.

Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has quickly become one of the franchise building blocks for a Panthers team that is on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

Still only 20 years old, he is already a top-pairing defenseman in the league and has scored 27 goals in his career, a number that is pretty much unheard of for a defenseman that young.

According to the hockey-reference database, the only defenseman that has scored more goals at that age through their first two seasons is Phil Housley.

After winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16 and having a busy offseason that saw them add Keith Yandle and Jason Demers to their defense, the Panthers look like they could be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season and Ekblad is going to be a major part of that.

Ilya Bryzgalov’s Canada – Russia take is the best take

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 24:  Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of Russia comes into the game against Canada during the ice hockey men's quarter final game between Russia and Canada on day 13 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 24, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Admit it: you miss Ilya Bryzgalov.

Saturday presented the latest reminder that hockey’s just a little less fun thanks to the absence of Mr. Universe, as Bryzgalov regaled ESPN’s Craig Custance with his impeccable analysis of the drubbing Russia received from Canada during the 2010 Olympics.

You see, Breezy initially described Canada’s start “like gorillas out of a cage,” but upon further reflection …

… Well:

“Not gorillas,” Bryzgalov said. “More like Orcs from ‘The Hobbit.’ You watch that movie, right? Big. Mean. Scary.”

Fantastic.

Now, it’s possible that Bryzgalov meant “Lord of the Rings” rather than “The Hobbit,” but both series featured “Big. Mean. Scary” orcs, so who knows:

Really though, it paints quite the picture. Imagine, for a moment, Shea Weber or Brent Burns decked out like that one especially big, mean and scary orc. One can only imagine the Photoshop masterpieces that may sprout up thanks to the vivid story Bryzgalov told.

***

Now, there are some great bits leading up to Saturday’s Canada – Russia semifinal. PHT should have more to come tonight.

Sportsnet looked back at a moment in which a seemingly sure-thing Canadian team hit a brick wall in a Russian opponent. NHL.com provided a fascinating look at Mike Babcock and his quest for control. TSN captures a moment of sorts for Steven Stamkos.

There’s a lot of great stuff out there, but Bryzgalov’s takes are truly one of a kind, and they’ve been truly missed.

Bruins’ Vatrano to miss three months with foot injury

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Frank Vatrano is supposed to be one of the young players the Boston Bruins will be counting on this season to help replace some of the offense they lost when Loui Eriksson signed a free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

Unfortunately for the Bruins they will have to wait a few months before he gets an opportunity to make an impact.

The team announced on Saturday that Vatrano is going to require surgery to repair torn ligaments in his foot and is expected to miss at least three months.

General manager Don Sweeney said that Vatrano was injured in his training in preparation for the team’s training camp.

Vatrano appeared in 39 games for the Bruins in 2015-16 season and scored eight goals, including a hat trick in an early season win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He spent the rest of his season playing for Providence of the American Hockey League where he scored a league leading 36 goals in only 36 games. Just for some perspective on that goal total, only one other player in the league scored 30 goals for the entire season, and that was Chris Bourque who scored 30 in 72 games.