Feb 19, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT
Going into the 2014 Winter Games, Russia appeared to have a questionable defense and arguably lacked the depth of the other major hockey nations. But they were loaded with so many world-class scoring threats that they had to be taken seriously.
By the end of the tournament, the talk had shifted from if Russia would be able to overcome its defensive shortcomings to why they couldn’t get anything going offensively.
- The Russians’ attempts to blend KHL and NHL talent together bred, at best, mixed results. Attempting to put KHLer Alexander Popov on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin didn’t help. Not only did it weaken the already struggling top line, but the KHL forwards — with two notable exceptions — combined for just one goal for Russia.
- Those two exceptions were a pair of NHLers that bolted for the KHL in Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk. They were two of the nation’s best players, even if Radulov came under fire for taking bad penalties.
- The NHL talent didn’t exactly live up to expectations either. Pavel Datsyuk was the only Russian NHLer to score more than one goal. Alexander Semin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Nikitin, Nikolai Kulemin, Artem Anisimov, and Fedor Tyutin finished the tournament without a single marker.
- Alex Ovechkin did find the back of the net — 77 seconds into Russia’s Olympic opener — and then never scored again. Something that Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov brought up without prompting during his quarterfinals’ postgame press conference.
- Similarly, Malkin had three points in Russia’s opener versus Slovenia and failed to record another point for the remainder of the Olympics.
- Further discounting the notion that this was purely an issue of KHLers dragging down the offense was how the team did with the man advantage. The Russian top power-play unit needed to be their strong point and it certainly looked up to the task with an initial composition of Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, Radulov and defenseman Andrei Markov. Eventually Radulov was swapped out in favor of Malkin, but in the end the team managed just three power-play goals.
- Prior to Russia’s game against Norway, Malkin harped on that point, saying that the team’s power play was the shortcoming they needed to address “first and foremost.” They spent a fair amount of time working on it without results.
- In the end, Russia scored 12 goals in regulation time in five games, but nine of those markers came against Slovenia and Norway. Not including the Russians’ shootout goals, they scored just three times in three contests against the U.S., Slovakia, and Finland.
- In closing, here’s what a dejected Ovechkin had to say about his team’s scoring woes after they were eliminated: “That’s a big question. It’s tough. It’s the second Olympic Games that we lost in that kind of game and it’s bad. Team fight, team play ’til the end and nobody gave up, but we didn’t score second goal and it was pretty hard.”
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