Five theories why the Russians lost

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1. Their best players weren’t good enough

Save for Pavel Datsyuk, who was excellent, and Ilya Kovalchuk, who ended the tournament with three goals, including the only one versus the Finns. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Semin all failed to produce the type of offense that was needed, given their talent. Alexander Radulov had six points in five games, but he also took two costly penalties in the shootout loss to the United States. Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov made specific mention of Ovechkin in the post-game press conference, saying he couldn’t explain why such a great goal-scorer could only score once in five games. Speaking of the coach…

2. Bilyaletdinov coached poorly

Also during the press conference, one of the reporters chastised Bilyaletdinov for not splitting up Ovechkin and Malkin. Another questioned the way Valeri Nichushkin was deployed. And, of course, the choice of goaltender for the Finland game will be questioned. Why Semyon Varlamov and not last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky? The first Finland goal that Varlamov allowed was stoppable. Not only that, it came within two minutes of Kovalchuk’s opener, making it an untimely, stoppable shot. Bilyaletdinov, by the way, said he wanted to remain coach, but admitted that the decision was not up to him.

3. The pressure was too much

Teemu Selanne said he could sense the Russians’ frustration growing as the game wore on: “We knew that they were tired.” Similarly, Sami Salo said he could “only imagine the kind of pressure” the hosts were under. Maybe it was the pressure that got to them, maybe it wasn’t. When a team presses, you often see individuals try to take over, instead of trusting that the system will pay off, and we probably saw a bit of that versus the Finns. Having said that, before the tournament started, Ken Holland had some cautionary words about assuming that pressure was a factor in a team’s performance: “Sometimes that it is the case. Sometimes…these are good teams.” Which brings us to this…

4. This may have been an upset, but Finland is no pushover

“I think the turning point for our tournament was the Canada game,” said Selanne. “In the first period, we were a little bit nervous. A lot of guys had never played against the best players in the world, but they saw and they realized they can compete against those guys. The whole body language changed. Now we believe we can beat anybody.” Finland also has Tuukka Rask, and that can’t be ignored. From Jim Craig to Dominik Hasek, we’ve seen goaltenders steal games in the Olympics before. Not to discount the timely offensive plays made by Selanne, Juhamatti Aaltonen, and Mikael Granlund, but the Russians outshot Finland, 38-22, meaning Rask was forced to make 37 saves. A good team that works hard and believes in itself can do big things with a great goalie.

5. The entire team just wasn’t good enough

Granted, most expected the Russians to get beyond the quarterfinals, but let’s not pretend they were the favorites here. We weren’t the only ones asking if expectations were too high, but for the record, we definitely did. This is a team that came into the Olympics with questionable depth and a questionable blue line. In the end, those two factors weren’t the main reasons they lost, but they didn’t help either. Just look how much Drew Doughty has boosted the Canadians’ offense from the back end. Only one Russian defenseman, Anton Belov, finished with a goal in Sochi.

OK, so that’s five theories. Feel free to add yours below, or disagree with mine. I’m off to watch the United States-Czech Republic game. Good hockey day today. (Unless you’re Russian.)

NHL players weigh in on national anthem protests, divisive President Trump comments

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A number of National Hockey League players and coaches on Monday expressed their opinions about the national anthem protests and the divisive comments of President Donald Trump during a rally on Friday and on Twitter this weekend.

At a rally on Friday, Trump urged NFL team owners to fire players that take a knee during the National Anthem. He reiterated those remarks on Twitter the following day.

On Sunday, almost every NFL team took part in a form of protest against racial inequality and injustice during the anthem. Some players took a knee. Other players linked arms with fellow players, coaches and even team owners in a show of solidarity. Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans did not take the field during the anthem.

On Monday, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, who is 20 years old and from Scottsdale, AZ., said he would not take part in protest during the anthem.

“My great uncle served, I have friends and family who’ve served, there’s men and women who have risked their lives for the United States, people who have died for the United States,” Matthews said, per Sportsnet.

“I don’t know if kneeling, sitting, stretching is something I’d really look into doing because to me it’s like a dishonour to the men and women that fight for that flag, fight for the U.S. I don’t think I’d be one of the people to take part in that.”

Boston Bruins forward David Backes, who is from Minneapolis, MN., said he will continue to stand during the Star Spangled Banner.

“My opinion is that I’m American and I love my country and I love my flag,” said Backes, per CSNNE.com.

“I’ve got great buddies that have been in the military and they’ve sacrificed for my freedom, so I’d never want to do anything to disrespect that. My standpoint is that I’m standing for every national anthem with my hand over my heart and I’m staring at that flag recognizing those sacrifices. If I’ve got beef with a social justice issue or something else-wise, I’m going to find different avenues that are not disrespectful, especially to those that are military men and women that give me the freedom to do what I do.”

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk told the Edmonton Journal that players have the right to protest, while his head coach Bill Peters does not believe that kneeling during the National Anthem is a sign of disrespect.

“I understand both sides. I don’t think anyone is truly trying to disrespect the flag, to be honest with you,” Peters told the Raleigh News & Observer. “I think people have too much pride in what’s going on in their countries, and they just want to make it better and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler is believed to be the first NHL player to publicly speak out against the comments of President Trump, doing so from his verified Twitter account on Saturday. His comments followed scathing criticism of the President from a number of athletes, including NBA stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, in the wake of what Trump said at the rally. Following Sunday’s schedule of games, a number of NFL players spoke about the protests.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler, when asked if he would support a teammate if they decide to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”

McLellan expects Strome to ‘respond and be better’ after sending preseason message

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Ryan Strome played a portion of Saturday’s preseason game on a line with Connor McDavid.

That, according to reports, eventually changed throughout the course of the game, as coach Todd McLellan put prospect Jesse Puljujarvi on the top line in place of Strome.

In part, the move was made to help get Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick in 2016, going offensively. In part, the move was made to send an early message to Strome, who was acquired in the Jordan Eberle trade in June. That was essentially the explanation McLellan delivered following the game, according to Sportsnet.

He reiterated that on Monday.

“In Ryan’s case, it was a message that went to him fairly early in the process, just so that he gets it out of his system early,” McLellan told reporters.

“I’d rather do that now than do it two or three games into the year and have him confused or wondering what or why. We sat with him today and went through some video clips and we expect him to respond and be better. We’re still trying to figure him out as he’s trying to figure us out. But we’re going to push him . . . to be the player that we believe he is and hopefully it pays off for him and for us.”

The Oilers continue their preseason schedule tonight at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. Strome, 24, has the ability to play both center and on the wing, which should give McLellan more options as he sets his forward combinations ahead of the regular season.

In terms of the message from the coaching staff, Strome called it a “learning process.”

“I saw a couple of the clips that I thought could have been improved on,” said Strome, per the Oilers. “Clean that up and I really just think that at the end of the day you have to get yourself ready for the start of the year. It’s building, and trying to get to where you want to be.”

Ducks’ duo of Getzlaf and Perry could reportedly be reunited

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The Anaheim Ducks appear to be putting the band back together.

With three preseason games remaining for head coach Randy Carlyle to nail down different line combinations ahead of the beginning of the regular season, reports out of Anaheim suggest he may be reuniting a duo that has had success in the past.

From the Orange County Register:

And there appears to be the reunion of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as linemates after the two largely played apart from each other last season. Perry did finish up with Getzlaf in the playoffs after Patrick Eaves went down to injury.

The combination of Perry and Getzlaf has over the years, been able to dominate the opposition at times, using both their size — Perry is apparently the smaller of the two, listed at 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds — and skill to help drive the Ducks offensively.

That doesn’t mean they haven’t been subject to separation in the past, just like any other line around the league at one point or another. That included last season, as the pair went through an offensive slump.

Last season, the now 32-year-old Perry scored only 19 goals, which, if you exclude the 2013 lockout-shortened season, is the third lowest total for his entire career, and the lowest since 2006-07. Perry and Getzlaf were once again united during the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Ducks looked to jump-start the former while he endured a down year in the scoring department.

“It’s a line I’m comfortable with,” Perry told the L.A. Times at the time of Carlyle’s playoff decision. “We played a lot of the year together and we had some good success in past years as well.”

Canadiens’ Drouin ‘day-to-day’ with upper body injury

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Some mildly concerning news for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as the team announced Jonathan Drouin will not play in their preseason game tonight due to an upper body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day. He will be replaced in the lineup tonight by veteran forward Torrey Mitchell.

At this point it is just something that is keeping him out of a preseason game, so it’s not really a huge deal at this point. Seeing as how the game doesn’t count there is no sense in risking further injury for a player that is going to be a key piece of this year’s roster. But the fact he still has something that is bothering him enough to keep him out of a game has to be at least a little bit of a concern for Canadiens fans.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin this summer for top defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev and are counting on him to be an impact player. They also immediately signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

The plan right now seems to be to try him out at center to help fill what might be the Canadiens’ biggest organizational need — a top-line, No. 1 center.

Drouin is an exceptional talent and still has superstar potential and is coming off of a season that saw him take a huge step forward. In 73 games with the Lightning he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists. His 53 total points would have made him the third-leading scorer on the Canadiens. If he takes another leap in his development and solidifies that No. 1 center spot his addition could be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ roster.