Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Men

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.)

After 11-game absence, Savard (oblique) back for Columbus

David Savard
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These are pretty decent times for the Blue Jackets.

The team is 7-3-2 in its last 12, recently re-upped with Ryan Murray on a two-year deal and, on Friday, announced that blueliner David Savard has been activated from IR after missing the last 11 games to an oblique strain.

Savard, 25, was a pretty integral part of John Tortorella’s defense when healthy. He averaged over 24 minutes per night and had 15 points through 39 games prior to being sidelined by the ailment.

He’ll presumably draw back into the lineup when the Jackets take on Ottawa on Saturday. No word yet on a corresponding roster move.

Who’s got the best/worst combined special teams?

The Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, (8), of Russia, leaps in the air in celebration after scoring his 500th career NHL goal during the second period of a hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Recently, the Washington Capitals went five whole games without scoring a power-play goal.

It was a real nightmare for those guys.

Despite the fact Washington went 3-1-1 over those five games, one headline called it a “troubling power-play drought” — which tells you how few “troubling” things the Caps have had to deal with this season.

Overall, special teams have been a boon for Washington, which ranks first on the power play and fifth on the penalty kill.

Compare that to, say, Calgary, which ranks 29th and 29th, respectively. Now that’s troubling.

Anyway, here’s how all 30 teams rank when their special teams are combined:

Rankings

Not surprisingly, there’s a strong correlation between good special teams and winning hockey games.

In the left column, 12 of the 15 teams are currently in a playoff spot. New Jersey, Buffalo, and Montreal are the exceptions.

On the right, only four teams — Colorado, Detroit, Nashville and the Rangers — are in a playoff spot.

John Scott to return to Habs’ AHL team this weekend

Pacific Division forward John Scott (28) is lifted up by teammates Mark Giordano (5), of the Calgary Flames, Joe Pavelski (8), and Brent Burns (88), of the San Jose Sharks after they defeated the Atlantic Division team 1-0 at an NHL hockey All-Star championship game, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Pacific Division won 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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John Scott’s had enough time off following his All-Star Game MVP award.

Now, he wants to get back to work.

Scott, who made major headlines at the end of January thanks to his unforgettable All-Star performance in Nashville, will return to Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s this weekend, as the IceCaps play a pair of games against the Toronto Marlies.

“It’ll be nice to [be] back playing hockey and doing my thing. I’m actually really excited for it,” Scott said, per ESPN. “This has been the longest break I’ve had, ever. But I play like 7-8 minutes, I won’t be too out of shape, I’ll be able to keep up.”

Scott, 33, hasn’t played since his Pacific Division team won the annual ASG 3-on-3 tournament on Jan. 31. Following that whirlwind weekend, the Montreal organization allowed him to take a leave to be with his wife, Danielle, who gave birth to twin girls on Feb. 5.

Scott only appeared in four games for St. John’s prior to the All-Star Game, going pointless with six penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating.

Related:

The John Scott story, coming to a theater near you?

Therrien on Habs recalling Scott: ‘You never know’

 

Goalie nods: Budaj set to make Kings debut

during a preseason game at Staples Center on September 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
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Journeyman Peter Budaj looks as though he’ll make his first regular-season NHL appearance since April of 2014, when the Kings take on the Rangers at MSG.

Recalled from AHL Ontario due to an injury to Jonathan Quick, Budaj gets the nod tonight after Quick’s backup, Jhonas Enroth, was beat for four goals on 29 shots in last night’s loss to the Islanders.

Budaj, 33, has certainly earned another crack at the big leagues. After catching on with the Kings through a PTO in training camp, he’s been terrific in Ontario, going 26-9-3 with a 1.58 GAA and .935 save percentage. The Slovakian netminder also has eight shutouts this year.

For the Rangers, Antti Raanta gets the start in goal, giving Henrik Lundqvist a night off.

Elsewhere…

Ben Scrivens, who appears to be the new No. 1 in Montreal, will go for his fourth straight win when the Habs visit Buffalo. Chad Johnson is in goal for the Sabres, who’ve really struggled of late.

Marc-Andre Fleury goes for the Penguins, while it looks like Cam Ward is in for Carolina.

— Really good matchup in Detroit as Semyon Varlamov goes up against Petr Mrazek who, according to Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, has “crashed Braden Holtby’s Vezina party.”

— Battle of All-Star netminders in Tampa Bay, as Ben Bishop goes for the Bolts while Pekka Rinne starts for Nashville.

The red-hot Brian Elliott will continue to roll as St. Louis’ No. 1 in Florida. The Panthers will go with their old reliable, Roberto Luongo.

Now that Karri Ramo’s on IR, it’s Jonas Hiller time for the Flames. He’ll start tonight in Arizona, against Louis Domingue.