Can Team Russia’s defense keep up with their skilled forwards?

Getty Images

We didn’t need yesterday’s line combinations to tell us how stacked Team Russia is up front.

The team’s top two lines have Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin and Valdimir Tarasenko. That doesn’t include Artemi Panarin and Pavel Datsyuk.

With Russia, skilled forwards are never the issue. Their defense is another story.

A pair of Montreal Canadiens lead the way in Andrei Markov (pictured) and Alexei Emelin. Both players bring different elements to the game, but neither one is overly quick.

Dmitry Kulikov, Alexey Marchenko, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Nesterov and Nikita Zaitsev round out Russia’s blue line.

For this team to be successful (unlike in Sochi), they’ll need this group of defensemen to push the pace from the back.

“We need to make quick decisions with the puck and give it to our forwards because that’s the most important,” explained Orlov, per “We have good forward lines and I think we need to play more in the offensive zone and give our forwards a chance to make some plays and score goals. Tarasenko, Ovechkin and Malkin, all these guys are stars in the NHL, so the quicker you give them the puck, they can make a play and get confidence to play every moment, every shift.”

On paper, it’s simple enough. But it seems to be the blue line that holds them back in most major tournaments.

So, how can new head coach Oleg Znarok make this work?

“Our star forwards have to work in defense,” Znarok said. “Then everything will be OK.”

Like every other team in the tournament, he’ll have to figure out how to get a group of star players to buy what he’s selling.

Every team in this tournament has a number of star players in their lineup, but the one that usually wins it all is the team that comes together quickest.

With the disappointment in Sochi still fresh in everyone’s mind, Russia has an opportunity to prove that they’re still a powerhouse in international hockey. No one doubts the talent, but the ability to come together as a team has been questioned plenty of times.

Would a World Cup win make everyone forget the disappointment in Sochi? No, but it would help put Russia back on the international hockey map.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

caufield surgery
David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

matty beniers
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.