Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Men

Five theories why the Russians lost


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.)

Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

From the Washington Post:

“No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

“Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

“I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.

After 20-game absence, Elias to make season debut for Devils

Patrik Elias
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It took a while, but Patrik Elias‘ campaign is ready to get underway.

Elias, who’s yet to play this year because of a knee injury, says he’ll be in the New Jersey lineup tonight when the Devils host the Blue Jackets at Prudential (per The Record).

The 39-year-old’s presence should provide an emotional lift in front of the home crowd.

A lifelong Devil — only Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur have appeared in more games — fans may be witnessing Elias’ last year in uniform. It’s fair to suggest he could be on the verge of retirement, given he’s in the last of a three-year, $16.5 million deal and will turn 40 in April.

As for tonight, it’s not yet official who Elias will play with — or how much he’ll play. He did take line rushes with Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau at Tuesday’s practice.

After three-game absence, Johnson back for Bolts this week

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The Lightning have a busy stretch of the schedule coming up, with three games in the next four nights.

And it sounds like they’ll get a big lineup reinforcement to help them through it.

Per LA Kings Insider — the Kings are in Tampa tonight — Bolts head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Tyler Johnson will be back in the lineup “at some point” this week, after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury.

Johnson has been out of the lineup since taking a Dave Bolland hit on Nov. 14. The timing of the injury was lousy, especially since Johnson looked to be rounding into form — after a rough October in which he failed to score a goal and had just five points in 12 games, Johnson was playing well in November, with three goals and five points in his first six games.

There’s no denying the Bolts could use Johnson back in the mix.

The club has been ravaged by injury lately and is currently without the services of Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette at forward.

The injuries are a big reason why Tampa is off to a mediocre 10-9-3 start. That said, the team has looked good in each of its last two games — a 2-1 win over the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, followed by a 5-0 blowout of the Ducks on Saturday.

As for when Johnson might get back in? The Bolts play tonight at home against L.A., on Friday in Washington, then back at home on Saturday against the Islanders.

Will the Bruins re-sign Loui Eriksson?

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Loui Eriksson, one of the key pieces Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, is in the last of his six-year, $25.5 million deal and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

And, at least for now, there doesn’t appear to be much certainty about his future as a Bruin.

“I’ll never, ever comment publicly in regard to individual players and negotiations and such,” B’s GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Herald this week. “Whether (comments) come out from the other side or wherever, they’re not going to come from me.

“He’s a big part of our team and he’s off to a really good start.”

Eriksson is certainly off to a good start — nine goals and 18 points in 20 games, his highest points-per-game average (.90) since coming to Boston, and the second-highest of his career.

He’s also playing nearly 20 minutes per night, enjoying great chemistry playing alongside David Krejci and, after an injury-riddled first year as a Bruin followed by last year’s playoff miss, seems to have really found his groove.

So why the silence on the extension front?

Two weeks ago, Eriksson told the Globe his agent, J.P. Barry, hasn’t had any discussions with Sweeney about re-signing in Boston.

“There’s not much you can really do about it now,” the 30-year-old Swede explained. “I’m trying to focus on playing good and trying to help this team as much as possible. Then we’ll see what happens after this year.”

Obviously, money is a factor.

Looking ahead, Boston’s current cap crunch doesn’t project to get much lighter. The club already has $61 million in salary committed for next season (per War On Ice), and Sweeney has to be mindful of other important contracts on the horizon.

Torey Krug is a restricted free agent at year’s end, and in line for a raise on the $3.4 million he made this season. Brad Marchand will be a UFA following the ’16-17 campaign.

And you’d think Sweeney would want to keep money free to eventually sort out Boston’s defense. The blueline has been an issue this season; it’s also getting old and will likely need an injection of new blood in the near future.

There’s also the question if, should he head to free agency, Eriksson couldn’t be replaced internally. The B’s are flush with young wingers — Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Seth Griffith, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Alexander Khokhlachev are all 26 or under — which could make Eriksson expendable.