Russia opens with win, beats Slovenia 5-2


It wasn’t the dominant performance many expected but, in the end, Russia got the job done.

The Olympic host beat Slovenia 5-2 in its first game of the tournament on Thursday, thanks in large part to a three-point effort from Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. Ilya Kovalchuk scored what proved to be the game-winner late in the second period, while Alex Ovechkin added a goal — Russia’s first of the tournament — and an assist.

Slovenia, though, has to be credited for hanging tough.

With just 148 registered senior men’s players, Slovenia’s talent pool is relatively shallow and Anze Kopitar is its lone NHL player. Despite this, the Slovenians put on a fairly good display in front of a partisan Russian crowd, withstanding an early barrage — Russia scored twice in the opening four minutes — to head into the third period down just 3-2.

Ziga Jeglic, a 25-year-old forward that plays for ERC Ingolstadt of the German League, scored both goals for Slovenia, while netminder Robert Kristan stopped 30 of 35 shots.

The Russians dominated for the most part, but could be accused of over-passing at times and trying to make plays a little too pretty. That said, the opening frame showed a clear disparity in talent between the two sides, as Russia came at Slovenia in waves and held an 18-4 advantage in shots.

In the final frame, Russia got goals from Dallas’ Valeri Nichushkin and Edmonton’s Anton Belov to put the game out of reach. Semyon Varlamov stopped 14 of 16 shots for the win, though it’ll be curious to see if Russia turns to Sergei Bobrovsky — the reigning Vezina winner — for  Saturday’s game against the U.S.

Notes: Veteran KHL forward Alexei Tereshenko finished with two points for Russia, assisting on both third-period goals… Kopitar assisted on Jeglic’s second marker… Russia really spread around the minutes on Thursday, as Alex Ovechkin led all skaters with just 17:24 TOI; no Russian played less than 10 minutes…

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado