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.)