“is party time now?” Projecting the 2014 Russian Olympic Team

 

Apparently, yesterday was the day all of hockey’s media decided to begin their predictions for the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. From ESPN to Yahoo, both the USA and Canada has been the talk of the best international hockey tournament on the globe. Luckily, no one is yet talking about the hosts, the best national team in the sport, and the reason you all read this site.
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Andrei on-the-Mark-ov earns Comrade of the Night

(photo courtesy of theprovince.com)

On a night where many Russian NHL’ers were getting their first goals or wins of the season, one man stood above the rest. Having only suited up 17 times for the Montreal Canadiens since Nov. 9, 2010, Andrei Markov scored two goals against the Florida Panthers and showed (at least for one night) that he still has quite the cannon from the point. Finally past the two anterior cruciate ligament surgeries on his right knee, Markov showed little hesitance on using his beloved slapshot, making netminder Scott Clemmensen look absolutely hapless on both goals.
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Habs Re-sign Andrei Markov

Andrei Markov’s tenure with the Montreal Canadiens will continue for another three seasoms as the Voskresensk native re-signed with the team last night. Having spent the last decade manning the Hab’s blue-line, Markov has been hampered by injuries of late as he missed the first 10 games of last season due to his injured knee, thenplayed just seven games before a second knee injury that required season-ending surgery. The deal, which will pay him $17.25-million over the course of three years is pretty large considering the chunk of games he has missed. However this shows the commitment the organization has towards a fan-favorite who also holds Canadian citizenship.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Markov to Price “Stay home, we dont need you here”

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(Courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America) )

As if the Montreal Canadiens didn’t have enough problems going for them amid a goalie dilemma and battling for a playoff spot it seems now that there is a locker-room split for which keeper should start amongst the players.

According to TEAM 990 radio in Montreal, defenseman and longest tenured player Andrei Markov told goalie Carey Price “If you are not going to play with heart, stay home. We don’t need you here” following the teams 4-3 overtime loss to St.Louis.

The radio also claims that half of the locker-room came to the defense of Price while the rest sided with Markov and possibly other goalie Jaroslav Halak. Price got the start tonight against Tampa Bay in which the Habs were shut-out 3-0.

With the trade dead-line weeks away it is possible that Halak or Price might be shipped out of Montreal since neither is satisfied as a back-up.

With this alleged rift brewing in the dressing room something must be done to unite a team which has gone up and down all season and finds itself in a eight team race for the final spot in the Eastern Conference.

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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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Comrade of the Night-Andrei Markov

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On Saturday night, Andrei Markov returned to the Montreal Canadiens line-up after being out for two months against the New York Islanders beating a 3-4 month prognosis. Markov wasted no time showing his worth by netting two power-play goals en route to a 3-0 win.

Markov got on the board early in the first period for his first goal of the year and would later tally once again on the man advantage midway through the second. He finished with over 20 minutes of ice-time and his return will mean both Montreal’s and Team Russia’s blue-lines can now fire on all cylinders.

Congratulations to Andrei on his return and his first-time COTN nod.
Below are both of Markov’s goals courtesy as always of the NHL and NHL.com

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Fallen Comrades around the league(UPDATED)

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When Andrei Markov injured his ankle back in early October it would start a wave of Russians to be bit by the injury bug with some of the most notable stars having to miss extended time.

First it was Pavel Datsyuk who recently returned to Detroits line-up to try and make up for lost time in hopes of helping a sub-par Red Wings team regain the momentum from last year.

Then within a few days of each other players such as Anton Volchenkov of Ottawa, Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta, Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh all have been placed on the shelf as their teams are forced to compete without their biggest helpers.

From shoulders to wrists to ankles the players have racked up a wide range of knocks to miss a small but important chunk of the season. Most players are expected back before mid November with plenty of time before the Olypmics in Vancouver.

Last night Alexander Ovechkin joined the party when he sustained a upper body injury after being involved in a scrum forcing him to leave mid-game and not return.

According to Capitals beat writer Tarik El-Bashir and Sport-Express’s Slava Malamud Ovechkin is likely to miss Wednesday’s game vs the New Jersey Devils which has one writer on here who has tickets very upset at the moment.

UPDATE: Ovechkin has been listed as week to week but will travel with the team. When asked about traveling but not playing Ovechkin responded with “Get some nachos, coke and enjoy the game”

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Andrei Markov out for 3-4 months

markov(courtesy of The Hockey News)

Andrei Markov’s 2009-10 season lasted only two and a half periods last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs as the veteran defenseman left the game after having his ankle tendon torn following a collision with goalie Carey Price’s skate.

Markov had surgery following the game in Toronto and is expected to miss 3-4 months. While it’s a major loss for the Montreal Canadiens, it’s possibly a bigger loss for Team Russia who’s blue line is their Achilles heel. With only Sergei Gonchar as their top NHL d-man it looks like most of the help will be brought in from the KHL who already outnumber the NHLer’s 10 to 4.

Last season Markov finished with 12 goals and 52 assists, and played in his second consecutive all-star game. Markov is in his final year of a 4-year contract.

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