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Five theories why the Russians lost

Feb 19, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT

Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey Men AP

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.)

  1. rlecchino - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    They have no heart. That’s not a theory.

    • pats2001 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:06 PM

      you got it rlecchino. unfortunately for the fans of russian hockey, their players don’t care about winning like they used to be forced to…they only care about making money.

      • 7mantel - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:16 PM

        Agree with both you guys , it’s always been about the money with the Russians . Don’t know how old your but back in 70’s when the Red Army team was getting pummeled by the Flyers , they refused to come out of the locker room . When NHL brass told them OK but your not getting paid! The Russian bigwigs told the player to get back on the ice !

      • vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:21 PM

        What a bunch of ‘ignoraineses’ ya are. Last I checked their were plenty of Russians in the NHL. The same Russians who could be playing back in their homeland for MILLIONS of tax free dollars more. Russians know more about honor and respect than any of you spoiled brats living in this country ever will. A sporting event proves nothing. 95% of the people in this country would not survive in Russia. The weak get eaten up there like sheep. Be thankful you guys are in a country that protects cowards because in Russia only the strong survive. Btw we live in the most money hungry country in the world! So don’t let your ignorance fool you.

      • skr213 - Feb 19, 2014 at 7:36 PM

        In Russia, sheep eat you.

      • mpg44 - Feb 19, 2014 at 8:50 PM

        Well vm113 obviously doesn’t group kovalchuk in his comment!

  2. hockeydon10 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    It was their bottom six forwards and their defense.

    They had a top six equal to other teams in the tourney. They had one Vezina winning goalie and one who (probably thanks to Colorado’s goalie coach) could be in the discussion this season.

    Even before the Olympics started people were saying their defense was thin. Turned out to be the case.

    • pastabelly - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:13 PM

      I agree with your theory more than “no heart” theory. They were beaten by a better team. The Finns may been outshot, but Tuukka had good looks at most of them and the game could have actually been 5-1 if Bobrovsky hadn’t come up with two great saves in the 3rd.

    • vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:36 PM

      It was their bottom six forwards and their defense.—Wrong. It was their top 6 that’s at fault. Because of their bottom 6, there top 6 would have had to dominate in order for Russia to win. They bombed epically. They SUCKED. They couldn’t even score on PP’s! They couldn’t even generate a sustained scoring drive! It was pathetic to watch.

      • pats2001 - Feb 19, 2014 at 2:51 PM

        regarding your comment above, the post was about why the russian hockey players played so bad, not whether or not americans could survive in russian, moron. and yes, all they care about is money. in the 2012 nhl playoffs when the caps beat boston in 7 games, while the caps were in boston, semin and ovechkin were out in boston partying every single night they were here. they couldnt care less how their team ends up, as long as they have their money. and before you get your panties in a bunch, i realize how awful the nba, mlb and some of the nfl players can be with money. this point is strictly for hockey players discussion

  3. prd797 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    I think the pressure-cooker atmosphere was the biggest impact. Politics and the Russian media really turned up the thermostat for those players, and the players and coaches themselves already were sweating without all of that.

    Sure, one could argue that winning the gold is the expectation that most of the big teams try to aspire to. But if you look at the performances of players like Malkin, Ovi, Radulov, etc., you find numbers that are not indicative of a quality team.

    All of the politics put less-talented KHL players on the roster. Add their depth mediocrity together with most of the ‘top’ players not putting the puck in the net and some coaching decisions that would make Tikhonov proud, and the result was almost inevitable.

    • vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      If they felt some pressure, we would have saw some desperation. Pressure had nothing to do with it. It was a piss poorly coached team. No structure whatsoever. Sad to see a collection of starts used so uselessly.

  4. vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    2 reasons why Russia lost.

    1.Coaching is a joke(which has become their MO).
    2.Ovechkins gutless performance.

    That’s it.

    • 7mantel - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:08 PM

      Malkin was a no show also .

      • vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:26 PM

        Malkin tried too hard. He was pressing. His execution was off, but I think that had to do a lot with the fact he did not trust his line mates. Without the puck he was putting in effort. Ovie on the other hand was absolutely worthless with and without the puck.

      • 7mantel - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:29 PM

        no points after first game !

      • 7mantel - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:33 PM

        Ovi , had more pressure than Malkin I think ! Either way the Russian NHL players played with no heart!

  5. joewilliesshnoz - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    A bunch of Russian Robots.

  6. rlecchino - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    Take it from an Islanders fan. They looked like a team full of Oleg Kvashas. all the talent in the world with zero heart. And as DeNiro said, “nothing worse than wasted talent.”

    • jr507 - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:01 PM

      Great reference rlecchino. Was thinking the same thing. No surprise though – watch the Russia Shaibu video: A) it’s hilarious; B) these guys live like mob dons. They are kings of their own universe out there so they truly don’t care about winning outside of taking heat at home. That’s clearly not enough to get them to lay it all on the line.

    • vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      The Russian hockey team is the epitome of “hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard”.

  7. pr0jecktpat - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    People can blame the players all they want, but really if you aren’t coached well you play poorly. Skill and talent alone can only get you so far.

  8. fivetozeroingame7 - Feb 19, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    I hope all of the Crapitals fans took note of what a pathetic loser Alex Ovechkin is. You will always be losers.

  9. oruacat2 - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:08 PM

    A list of great names on paper does not guarantee great team play on the ice.

  10. badgerhockey77 - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Whatever! Russia lost, and I’m loving it. No medals in the last THREE Olympics’. Safe to say they pretty much suck at hockey! Thank you Finland!!!

  11. dtownbeatdown - Feb 19, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    That team needs a solid coach. For people saying they suck that is laughable. Some of the best competitors in the world are on that team. Datsyuk is the best 2 way player in the world, I would love to have Ovis shot on my team, and Malkin is a great overall player. To say they suck shows the arrogance of some Americans. As I do hope USA brings home gold… we haven’t won anything yet.

    • vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 2:06 PM

      I would love to see what this team would look like with Mike Babcock behind the bench. For a country filled with tough sob’s, they sure do have some baby soft coaches.

  12. flyerspsu - Feb 19, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    Main reason:

    – Half the team doesnt play defense, is lazy, selfish or all of the above

    It doesn’t matter how much skill or talent you have today in hockey, you have to play defense, be responsible and work and try the entire game, every shift which seems to be an unheard of practice to most Russians that aren’t name Datsyuk

    • vm113 - Feb 19, 2014 at 2:33 PM

      All you idiots get off the “defense” wagon. I think Russia allowed only 2 5 on 5 goals in the tournament. There defense wasn’t the problem, there offense was.

  13. talksthetalk1 - Feb 19, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    6. The Finnish team scored more goals.

  14. skr213 - Feb 19, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    It’s nice to the see that the Russian Minister of Hockey Propaganda has made his way to PHT. vm113, welcome to America!!

  15. tdrusher225 - Feb 20, 2014 at 12:04 AM

    Kovalchuk was a turnover machine who played like a total punk, he isn’t exempt from blame.

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