Russia Cruise Past Norway En Route to Quarterfinals

(photo courtesy of RIA Novosti)

After not being able to score until the shootout against the Slovaks, Russia finally found their offensive spark against the lowly Norewegians in Tuesday’s qualification match-up. For much of the first period Russia looked hardly the offensive juggernaut that they are on paper as Norway matched them stride for stride.

Even on the man-advantage, Russia’s Achilles heel so far this tournament, the team could not get much going as the home crowd were treated to another unenthused performance.
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Russia Go The Distance With Slovakia, Win in Shootout

(Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)

Following their heartbreaking loss to the US on Saturday, Russia faced off against a win-less Slovakia needing to win in regulation in order to get a bye to the quarter finals. Whether it was fatigue or lack of enthusiasm or both, Sbornya came out rather flat against a Slovakian team who had lost to newcomer Slovenia the night before.
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Russia Shown the Osh-Face by America; Fall in Shootout

(courtesy of Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports)

The most highly anticipated match up of the preliminary round between Russia and Team USA was one for the ages, my blood pressure can attest to that. The game featured everything you’d want to see in a hockey fixture whether it be drama, heartbreak, and jubilation. Unfortunately for Russia today was not their day following a 3-2 shootout loss to the Yanks.

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Russia Announces Olympic Roster for Sochi

After asking the IIHF for an extension of roster announcements, the host nation waited until every other team revealed their squad before finally releasing theirs. Below is the offical 32 man roster.
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Alexander Radulov to Rejoin Nashville

(courtesy of the AP)

As if things weren’t going well enough already in Nasvhille it appears that it’s only going to get better. Earlier today it was reported that 25-year-old winger, Alexander Radulov, is set to return to the team he abandoned for the KHL 3 years ago where he will be received with open arms. Radulov has agreed with his KHL team Salavat Ufa to return to the NHL while they retain his rights for next year.
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Russia Rallies Past Canada En Route to Semifinals


(courtesy of AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR)

Having played two periods of what looked like hopeless hockey, Team Russia overturned a 1-0 deficit against a favorite rival to secure a place in the semi-finals of the 2011 Men’s World Championships. Canada would grab the first goal of the game on a Jason Spezza breakaway in the second period and would hold on as Russia failed to convert on every powerplay they got through the interval. Russia was even gifted a 4-minute man advantage after Ilya Kovalchuk received a stick to the face by his own teammate only to have the ref pinch John Tavares, they would fail to bother goalie Jonathan Bernier with any real pressure.
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Russia Annihilates Latvia 8-2, But Still Has Room to Improve

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A very light mood surrounded the Russian men’s hockey team before their opening game with Latvia. Smiles, jokes, and grins all around from the moment they got together, Head Coach Slava Bykov held a 45-minute practice session during the morning that accomplished very little.

The giddy mood could not be removed.

After watching the U.S. and Canadian teams put up victories earlier in the day, the ice surface would not be ideal after seeing so much action. But as great players, they weren’t going to have Latvia or the poor ice surface slow them down.

It didn’t take long for the tone of the game to be determined. Only 19 seconds in, the Latvians took the first of many penalties to come, sending out the Russian power play.

Although the power play eventually failed, they maintained zone time and built up momentum, getting the opening goal a few seconds after the penalty had expired off a tap-in from KHL MVP Danis Zaripov. The 28-year-old who plies his trade for Ak Bars Kazan may be an unknown commodity in North America, but he’s a crafty player that certainly knows how to find the high scoring areas.

The game continued with Russia completely dominating the first seven minutes of play, as Latvia only touched the puck one or two times in that time. But Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis held his own and made a couple fine saves.

His first slight error however, cost his team another goal. An innocent looking shot from Sergei Fedorov drifting across the middle could not be controlled by Masalskis, and the rebound was poked home by a diving Alexander Radulov.

radulov

2-0 for Russia, two assists for Fedorov.

It was a dream start for Russia, but the Latvians did not look comfortable at all and didn’t seem to do well with the pressure.

They started to build a little momentum after the halfway mark, as Russia took a penalty for too man men on the ice. Oddly enough, the Latvian power play came on looking twice as dangerous as its’ Russian counterpart, but San Jose Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov stood tall to make several stellar saves.

As the period was coming to a close, Masalskis got a taste of Alex the Great. A steal by Alexander Semin down low, he then picked out Ovechkin flying down the middle for a booming slapshot that we’ve seen so often. No chance for Masalskis, Ovechkin will miss zero percent of those shots.

Just like that, it’s 3-0 Russia heading into the first intermission.

The second period began as a bit of a chess match and a penalty-killing exhibition. Both teams had two power plays each in the first 12 minutes of action, all of them getting killed off rather easily. But even strength or man advantage, Latvia had a new-found composure and it paid off, as they were getting to the offensive zone with much more frequency.

But, after a hooking call on former Tampa Bay Lightning winger Martins Karsums, Russia’s power play finally slammed one home. Superb passing once again, Sergei Gonchar found Ilya Kovalchuk on the left circle wide open for a heavy slapshot.

He didn’t score from that position, but it created a juicy rebound and Evgeni Malkin took no time to deposit it into the empty net from a few feet out. Make it four for Russia.

For however defensive-minded the 2nd period was, that all changed in a hurry to start the final stanza. Three goals were scored in 57 seconds.

First was Herberts Vasiljevs beating Nabokov from nearly the same place Ovechkin had scored from earlier to give Latvia it’s first goal of the Olympics. Second was the forementioned Ovechkin, who was interfered with at center ice, but got right back up and flicked a wrister home from the left wall.

ovechkin

Third and final came from Zaripov once again. A slapshot from the right circle that appeared to be saved at first managed to roll through the pads of Masalskis. Just like that, it was 6-1 for Russia.

That was hardly the end of the scoring, however. The Sbornaya were not happy at all about allowing a goal. Forechecking with a new-found intensity, Malkin and Kovalchuk combined for another quick goal. Setting up shop behind the Latvian goal, Malkin picked out the newest  New Jersey Devil for a quick release that found it’s way in.

Not even 30 seconds later, Latvia scored again, thanks to a tremendous slapshot from Girts Ankipans that beat Nabokov top shelf. In total, five goals scored in two minutes.

As time was melting away, Russian captain Aleksei Morozov added a final goal to tie Canada’s eight, another rebound that got away from Masalskis after Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov was allowed to waltz right on in.

Two goals for the NHL’s MVP, two goals for the KHL’s MVP.

A convincing 8-2 opening night triumph for the Red Machine. “Yeah, you know, it’s always nice when you get some good moments and a good start. We were ready for it, but it’s just a start and we have to continue how we play,” said Ovechkin after the game. The scoreline was dominant, but not half as dominant as it could have been.

Full game highlights can be seen here, thanks to NBC.

russia salut

What did Russia do well?

Puck Movement

The puck movement all night long was terrific. No matter who was on the ice, it seemed like they were always able to find the open man and hit him with a pass.

It allowed the Sbornaya to wear down the Latvian defenders as the game wore on, because they were chasing or playing defense for nearly three quarters of the game. Teams can also get easily frustrated, spending that much time pinned in their own end. But to the Latvians credit, they stayed composed for the most part.

A more offensively-gifted squad may not be so enthusiastic about playing defense.

The puck movement on the power play was so good it was almost too unselfish. Defensemen and forwards alike were able to pick apart the defense easily with precision passing.

Penalty Killing

If there was one Achilles’ heel for this team, defense was supposed to be it. Latvia had five power play chances and none of them amounted to much of anything. In fact, one of the best scoring chances didn’t come from Latvia, but instead a steal by Pavel Datsyuk in the neutral zone that nearly led to a breakaway goal.

Ilya Nikulin of Ak Bars had one of the strongest game defensively of any of the Russian defensemen. Nabokov was also superb on the penalty kill. He didn’t have to make a ton of saves, but he made the important ones when he had to.

Capitalizing

Sure, Russia launched 45 shots at Masalskis. But it wasn’t the quantity, it was the quality. That number could have been much higher, but instead it was patience being shown by the snipers, waiting for the best scoring chances.

Every mistake made by the Latvian goaltender resulted in a goal for Russia. Every scoring chance where you would say “that puck should be in the net” ended in a goal. It was opportunistic scoring and capitalizing on the chances that should be converted.

Ovechkin scored a big goal with 30 seconds remaining in the first period and also responded immediately after Latvia scored their first goal in the third.

 

What could be improved before the game with Slovakia?

Power Play

Not exactly what you would expect to see here, but Russia went 1-for-8 on the man advantage. Part of that can be contributed to the very solid play of Masalskis. More of the fault will fall on the shooters however.

The passing, as outlined before, couldn’t have been better. But players would pass up shots in order to make the perfect play and need to do a better job getting pucks through on goal. Oddly enough, this wasn’t the power play that everyone thought they would see.

Slava Bykov uses groupings, with each group consisting of five-man units. Those same units that were meant for even strength play were also used on the man advantage. We saw Malkin and Kovalchuk up front, but with Konstantin Korneev or Ilya Nikulin on the point. Only in the final power play of the game did Bykov send out a unit of Ovechkin, Semin, Datsyuk, Gonchar, and Markov.

Five-on-Five Chances Allowed

While the penalty killing was great, Latvia had just a few too many decent scoring opportunities at even strength for comfort. Nabokov bailed defensemen out on quite a few times, allowing chances that a better team surely would have finished.

There were also a few times during the game where the Latvians were able to pin a group in the Russian end for more than a minute at a time, aided by turnovers or failed clearing attempts. Every game, you’ll give up some scoring opportunities but not being able to get the puck out of the zone when possible needs to be done.

Penalties

Just a few too many penalties on the whole. There’s always going to be a penalty or two a game that you have to take, but getting called for things like too many men on the ice or an undisciplined interference are very preventable.

Slava Bykov will have to clean that up before Thursday.

 

Grades (out of 10)

Black Line (Ovechkin, Semin, Datsyuk, Grebeshkov, Korneev): 7.5. Semin and Ovechkin worked together flawlessly, as expected. Datsyuk fit right in centering the two, while Korneev and Grebeshkov were responsible defensively. However, the unit did allow Latvia’s second goal due to a turnover in the neutral zone.

Red Line (Malkin, Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, Gonchar, Tyutin): 7. Malkin did his best to set up Kovalchuk throughout the game, and he led the Russians in shots with five due to that generosity. Gonchar and Malkin had great chemistry as well and Tyutin didn’t look out of place at all. Gonchar did not play his best game defensively though, and Afinogenov was swapped out later in favor of Radulov.

Blue Line (Morozov, Zinoviev, Zaripov, Markov, Nikulin): 8. Had themselves a very nice game together. The Ak Bars teammates got in behind the Latvian defense multiple times and although Markov was not playing at 100 percent, he was effective nonetheless. Nikulin had a more than solid game, showing off his physical side and his huge shot from the point.

White Line (Fedorov, Kozlov, Radulov, Volchenkov, Kalinin): 7. Fedorov couldn’t have played a better game, and Radulov was also a major force, which earned him a promotion. Volchenkov and Kalinin were not particularly strong defensively and that needs to change.

Goaltender (Nabokov): 8.5. He didn’t have a particularly busy evening, but made nearly all the saves he needed to make. Allowed a goal he would have liked back in the third period but hey, nobody is perfect.  

 

Notes

Bykov has announced Ilya Bryzgalov will be in net against Slovakia instead of Nabokov. The decision was made prior to the victory over Latvia and had absolutely nothing to do with Nabokov’s performance.

Five Russian players finished with multiple points, and only five out of the 20 total did not register a point. 

The puck drops against Slovakia on Thursday at 9 PM PST on CNBC.  All photos are courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)  

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Team Russia Announces Olympic Roster

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Russia has announced their roster for the men’s national team to compete in the Olympics this winter in Vancouver. 9 of the 23 named were of the KHL with the majority of course from the NHL. Below is the roster coached by Vychaslev Bykov. The roster will re-unite Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov with former teammates Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin.

Goalkeepers
Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes, NHL
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks, NHL
Semyon Varlamov, Washington Capitals, NHL

Defencemen
Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
Denis Grebeshkov, Edmonton Oilers, NHL
Dmitriy Kalinin, Salavat Yulaev, KHL
Konstantin Korneev, CSKA, KHL,
Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens, NHL
Ilya Nikulin, Ak Bars, KHL,
Fedor Tyutin, Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL
Anton Volchenkov, Ottawa Senators, NHL

Forwards
Maxim Afinogenov, Atlanta Thrashers, NHL
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings, NHL
Sergei Fedorov, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL
Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers, NHL
Viktor Kozlov, Salavat Yulaev, KHL
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
Alexei Morozov, Ak Bars, KHL
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, NHL
Alexander Radulov, Salavat Yulaev, KHL
Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals, NHL
Danis Zaripov, Ak Bars, KHL
Sergei Zinoviev, Salavat Yulaev, KHL

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Russia finally announces Olympic camp invitees

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Today, Russia announced the list of players who will be invited to participate in the tryouts for the national team in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The team is almost split evenly between NHL players and KHL players as Russia looks for their third major title in as many years.

Most of the players who featured in the team’s 2009 World Championship campaign were invited along with those who were in the midst of a playoff series. Notably missing from the invitees are Nikolai Khabibulin, Slava Kozlov, and Sergei Mozyakin who lead the KHL in scoring with 76 points in 56 games.

Below is the list of the players who will be invited to the CSKA facilities in Moscow for the shot to restore national pride to a country who has not captured Olympic gold since the days of the Soviet Union.

The camp will be held Aug. 29-Sep. 1. Teams have until Dec. 30 to submit final rosters, although they can make injury substitutions up until Feb. 15, the day before the Olympic tournament begins in Vancouver.

Goaltenders
Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix Coyotes)
Alexander Eremenko (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose Sharks)
Simeon Varlamov (Washington Capitals)

Defensemen
Vitali Atyushov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL)
Sergei Gonchar (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Denis Grebeshkov (Edmonton Oilers)
Dmitri Kalinin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Maxim Kondratiev (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Konstantin Korneyev (CSKA Moscow, KHL)
Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens)
Ilya Nikulin (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL)
Vitali Proshkin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Oleg Tverdovsky (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Fedor Tyutin (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Vitali Vishnevsky (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, KHL)
Anton Volchenkov (Ottawa Senators)
Alexei Zhitnik (Dynamo Moscow, KHL)
Sergei Zubov (Dallas Stars)

Forwards
Evgeny Artyukhin (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo Sabres)
Konstantin Gorovikov (SKA St. Petersburg, KHL)
Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings)
Danis Zaripov (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL)
Sergei Zinoviev (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Alexei Kovalev (Ottawa Senators)
Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta Thrashers)
Viktor Kozlov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Alexei Morozov (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL)
Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Alexander Radulov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL)
Oleg Saprykin (Dynamo Moscow, KHL)
Alexander Semin (Washington Capitals)
Alexei Tereschenko (Ak Bars Kazan, KHL)
Sergei Fedorov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk, KHL)
Alexander Frolov (Los Angeles Kings)

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Russia edges Canada 2-1 clinch second consecutive gold medal

roooocourtesy of HHOF-IIHF Images)

With a 2-1 win over their arch rivals Canada on Sunday, the Russian national team won their second straight gold medal on the world championship stage. Goals from Oleg Saprykin and Alexander Radulov was all Russia needed as they relied heavily on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The Phoneix Coyote would make 37 saves often diving left and right to deny Canada an equalizer.

Jason Spezza would open the scoring for Canada with a practically empty net to shoot at as Bryzgalov was not expecting a redirect. It was the eighth time in nine games that Canada opened the scoring.

Seven minutes later Russia would go on the man advantage where Saprykin would tip in the equalizer past Dwayne Roloson. Both teams would go into the intermission tied at 1. In the second the referees missed a clear high stick on Dany Heatley who hit his former teammate Ilya Kovalchuk in the mouth. Kovalchuk would lose a tooth on the play.

Radulov would get on the board minutes later as he played a 2-on-1 towards Roloson. The NHLer-turned-KHLer would outlast defensemen Chris Phillips while cutting across the top of the slot and would beat Roloson at 14:30.

Russia would hold off the onslaught in the final frame as both teams missed opportunities to make or break their fortunes. As the final horn sounded Bryzgalov was mobbed by his teammates as they celebrated their second straight gold medal against Canada.

Bryzgalov would get the player of the game award and Kovalchuk would be named tournament MVP. The win gave Russia possession of first place in the IIHF world standings for the first time since 2004.

Below is the team joyfully singing the national anthem which would give any Russian citizen chills as the exuberant faces are linked shoulder to shoulder unified by their flag.

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