Going into the 2014 Winter Games, Russia appeared to have a questionable defense and arguably lacked the depth of the other major hockey nations. But they were loaded with so many world-class scoring threats that they had to be taken seriously.
By the end of the tournament, the talk had shifted from if Russia would be able to overcome its defensive shortcomings to why they couldn’t get anything going offensively.
- The Russians’ attempts to blend KHL and NHL talent together bred, at best, mixed results. Attempting to put KHLer Alexander Popov on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin didn’t help. Not only did it weaken the already struggling top line, but the KHL forwards — with two notable exceptions — combined for just one goal for Russia.
- Those two exceptions were a pair of NHLers that bolted for the KHL in Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk. They were two of the nation’s best players, even if Radulov came under fire for taking bad penalties.
- The NHL talent didn’t exactly live up to expectations either. Pavel Datsyuk was the only Russian NHLer to score more than one goal. Alexander Semin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Nikitin, Nikolai Kulemin, Artem Anisimov, and Fedor Tyutin finished the tournament without a single marker.
- Alex Ovechkin did find the back of the net — 77 seconds into Russia’s Olympic opener — and then never scored again. Something that Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov brought up without prompting during his quarterfinals’ postgame press conference.
- Similarly, Malkin had three points in Russia’s opener versus Slovenia and failed to record another point for the remainder of the Olympics.
- Further discounting the notion that this was purely an issue of KHLers dragging down the offense was how the team did with the man advantage. The Russian top power-play unit needed to be their strong point and it certainly looked up to the task with an initial composition of Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, Radulov and defenseman Andrei Markov. Eventually Radulov was swapped out in favor of Malkin, but in the end the team managed just three power-play goals.
- Prior to Russia’s game against Norway, Malkin harped on that point, saying that the team’s power play was the shortcoming they needed to address “first and foremost.” They spent a fair amount of time working on it without results.
- In the end, Russia scored 12 goals in regulation time in five games, but nine of those markers came against Slovenia and Norway. Not including the Russians’ shootout goals, they scored just three times in three contests against the U.S., Slovakia, and Finland.
- In closing, here’s what a dejected Ovechkin had to say about his team’s scoring woes after they were eliminated: “That’s a big question. It’s tough. It’s the second Olympic Games that we lost in that kind of game and it’s bad. Team fight, team play ’til the end and nobody gave up, but we didn’t score second goal and it was pretty hard.”
Five theories why the Russians lost
This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.
The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.
(Watch that goal in the video above.)
It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.
Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.
To start the seemingly pivotal stretch, Andrei Vasilevskiy made an outstanding save on Evgeni Malkin on what sure looked like a scary chance.
The play swiftly shifted from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ side of the ice, and it seemed like Jonathan Drouin scored a big 1-0 goal in Game 6.
As it turns out, the goal was disallowed thanks to an offside goal review.
Here are a few viewpoints on that moment in GIF form … you can get a fuller view via the video above.
The general feeling among those who don’t have a horse in the race is that it was the right call. (Lightning fans were, uh, not happy.)
At some point, it will probably be kind of boring to hear members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization praise Jonathan Drouin.
At least if Drouin re-signs with the Bolts after quite the affirming postseason and his ascension amid injuries.
These days? It’s still sort of entertaining.
In the latest case, Jon Cooper was asked to compare the development paths for Nikita Kucherov vs. Drouin. After empathizing with the pressure Drouin carries as a high-end pick (vs. Kucherov’s ability to come in under the radar), Cooper had some very positive things to say about No. 27.
” … So many people think, well, you’re just going to step in the league at 18 and be dominant,” Cooper said. “I truly believe Jonathan is going to be dominant in this league, but it’s hard to do at 18. He had to work through it, and that’s it.”
Drouin, now at 21, has 12 points in 15 playoff games.
In other Lightning news, it sounds like the team will roll with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an alignment that has been working well lately and also came through at times during the 2015 postseason.
The Penguins, meanwhile, replace Beau Bennett with Conor Sheary.
Tonight could be the final game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (8:00 p.m. ET)
The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 3-2.
Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s game:
—Malkin guaranteed a Penguins win in Game 6
—Lightning coach doesn’t seem flustered by Malkin’s guarantee
—Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason
—Marc-Andre Fleury: ‘I should have been better’ in Game 5