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.
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.”
If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.
Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).
Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:
1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP
Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:
Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.
Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings
As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.
For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.
They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.
The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.
On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.
It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.
This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.
That’s impressive stuff.
This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:
The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.