Alexander Ovechkin

Sochi notes: Pressure is a factor, but it’s not always THE factor

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Hello from the other side of the world. The Russian team has a press conference here shortly. In the meantime, here are some Sochi notes:

—- If you thought all this pressure talk was overblown, I asked Ken Holland yesterday if he’d ever seen pressure get to a team, and he said, “Oh yeah, absolutely.”

Granted, he also said, “Any time you get into sports, there’s pressure. You want to win and the people you’re playing against want to win. I think when you’re involved in sports, you go into a cocoon. When we were in Vancouver, for two weeks you’re down in the locker room, you worry about practice. You have to come out occasionally to talk to media and you go back in.”

Somewhat unconvinced, I asked if that was easier said than done, for players to “go into a cocoon,” making specific reference to Alex Ovechkin, the face of the Sochi Games, who may not be able to hide out in the locker room the whole tournament.

Holland clarified.

“Does everyone here understand the significance of the tournament? Absolutely,” he said. “But do I think they wake up tomorrow morning and they’re thinking about that? No, they’re going to do the same thing tomorrow that they did in Washington or Detroit or Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh or Chicago. They’re creatures of habit, and that’s how they perform at their best.”

Holland also warned against the assumption that, if a team doesn’t win, it’s because the pressure got to the players.

“Sometimes that it is the case,” he said. “Sometimes…these are good teams.”

And only one can win gold.

(Related: Are expectations too high for Russia?)

—- I really liked this answer from Mike Babcock about the keys to scoring on the bigger international ice.

“It’s so easy to be stuck on the outside on the big ice and think you are doing something because you are standing in your zone and you are just standing there,” he said. “In the end you have got to get on the inside to score.

“You have got to be inside the dots. If you hang out, open on the wall, in North America you still might be able to score, but here you are not going to.”

Apparently Ralph Krueger – Team Canada’s big-ice consultant – has been telling reporters the same thing.

And that’s why size is still important on the big ice, even if speed is the factor that gets the most attention.

—- Funniest quote of yesterday’s media blitz goes to Ken Hitchcock, responding to a question about how Canada’s coaching staff – which features four NHL bench bosses – works.

Surely it’s not a democracy, the reporter said.

“It’s a benevolent dictatorship,” said Hitchcock.

Tito Babcock. That’s his nickname for the rest of the Olympics. Deal? (Look it up.)

—- Pavel Datsyuk just said that he’s going to play Thursday versus Slovenia, but I have no idea how effective he’ll be with what’s believed to be a left knee injury. (It’s also been reported as a groin injury.)

Whatever the ailment — maybe it’s both those things — if Datsyuk can’t be Datsyuk, the Russians have a big problem. When healthy he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the game. When less than 100 percent, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be able to keep up with the most dangerous non-Russian scorers in the world, of which Canada, Sweden, and the United States have their fair share.

—- Lots of talk yesterday about adjusting to the time change after arriving in Sochi. Babcock semi-joked that Team Canada practiced in the evening so the players wouldn’t go to bed.

“Keep the players up,” he said. “It has been a long day, so we thought if we did some exercise at this time of night we would have a better chance of staying up until midnight.”

American forward Ryan Callahan said something similar after skating even later in the evening than the Canadians did.

“Yeah, it was a long day,” he said. “But to get adjusted to the time change, you’ve got to get on the ice and get the blood moving a little bit, and make sure you’re not sleeping. But the legs felt heavy out there.”

For the record, I’ve been here over a week now, and my inner clock is still a bit off. Though, granted, I may not be a good comparable to use. Discipline is not my middle name, and I’m not a finely tuned professional athlete. I had pretzels for breakfast this morning.

Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

From the Washington Post:

“No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

“Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

“I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.

After 20-game absence, Elias to make season debut for Devils

Patrik Elias
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It took a while, but Patrik Elias‘ campaign is ready to get underway.

Elias, who’s yet to play this year because of a knee injury, says he’ll be in the New Jersey lineup tonight when the Devils host the Blue Jackets at Prudential (per The Record).

The 39-year-old’s presence should provide an emotional lift in front of the home crowd.

A lifelong Devil — only Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur have appeared in more games — fans may be witnessing Elias’ last year in uniform. It’s fair to suggest he could be on the verge of retirement, given he’s in the last of a three-year, $16.5 million deal and will turn 40 in April.

As for tonight, it’s not yet official who Elias will play with — or how much he’ll play. He did take line rushes with Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau at Tuesday’s practice.

After three-game absence, Johnson back for Bolts this week

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The Lightning have a busy stretch of the schedule coming up, with three games in the next four nights.

And it sounds like they’ll get a big lineup reinforcement to help them through it.

Per LA Kings Insider — the Kings are in Tampa tonight — Bolts head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Tyler Johnson will be back in the lineup “at some point” this week, after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury.

Johnson has been out of the lineup since taking a Dave Bolland hit on Nov. 14. The timing of the injury was lousy, especially since Johnson looked to be rounding into form — after a rough October in which he failed to score a goal and had just five points in 12 games, Johnson was playing well in November, with three goals and five points in his first six games.

There’s no denying the Bolts could use Johnson back in the mix.

The club has been ravaged by injury lately and is currently without the services of Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette at forward.

The injuries are a big reason why Tampa is off to a mediocre 10-9-3 start. That said, the team has looked good in each of its last two games — a 2-1 win over the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, followed by a 5-0 blowout of the Ducks on Saturday.

As for when Johnson might get back in? The Bolts play tonight at home against L.A., on Friday in Washington, then back at home on Saturday against the Islanders.

Will the Bruins re-sign Loui Eriksson?

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Loui Eriksson, one of the key pieces Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, is in the last of his six-year, $25.5 million deal and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

And, at least for now, there doesn’t appear to be much certainty about his future as a Bruin.

“I’ll never, ever comment publicly in regard to individual players and negotiations and such,” B’s GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Herald this week. “Whether (comments) come out from the other side or wherever, they’re not going to come from me.

“He’s a big part of our team and he’s off to a really good start.”

Eriksson is certainly off to a good start — nine goals and 18 points in 20 games, his highest points-per-game average (.90) since coming to Boston, and the second-highest of his career.

He’s also playing nearly 20 minutes per night, enjoying great chemistry playing alongside David Krejci and, after an injury-riddled first year as a Bruin followed by last year’s playoff miss, seems to have really found his groove.

So why the silence on the extension front?

Two weeks ago, Eriksson told the Globe his agent, J.P. Barry, hasn’t had any discussions with Sweeney about re-signing in Boston.

“There’s not much you can really do about it now,” the 30-year-old Swede explained. “I’m trying to focus on playing good and trying to help this team as much as possible. Then we’ll see what happens after this year.”

Obviously, money is a factor.

Looking ahead, Boston’s current cap crunch doesn’t project to get much lighter. The club already has $61 million in salary committed for next season (per War On Ice), and Sweeney has to be mindful of other important contracts on the horizon.

Torey Krug is a restricted free agent at year’s end, and in line for a raise on the $3.4 million he made this season. Brad Marchand will be a UFA following the ’16-17 campaign.

And you’d think Sweeney would want to keep money free to eventually sort out Boston’s defense. The blueline has been an issue this season; it’s also getting old and will likely need an injection of new blood in the near future.

There’s also the question if, should he head to free agency, Eriksson couldn’t be replaced internally. The B’s are flush with young wingers — Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Seth Griffith, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Alexander Khokhlachev are all 26 or under — which could make Eriksson expendable.