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…