Russia Tops Slovakia in opening game of World Championship;Datsyuk on the way

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(Courtesy of Jukka Rautio/HHOF-IIHF Images)

On Sunday, Russia opened up their title defense against Slovakia with a 3-1 win in Cologne. Goals by Alexander Ovechkin, Maxim Afinogenov, and Viktor Kozlov were all the team would need to hold off a usually competitive opponent in the Slovaks. Goaltender Vasili Koshechkin turned away 32 of the 33 shots including 13 in the third period with his team being outshot 14 to 3. Playing on Lada Togliatti in the KHL this is Kosheckin’s first start for the National team since 2007.
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Russia Announces Roster for World Championships

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Head Coach Vyacheslav Bykov has announced the 25-man roster that will defend Russia’s crown in Germany starting this Sunday against Slovakia. Unlike the team that traveled to Vancouver before that embarrasing exit at the hands of the hosts this roster features more KHL’ers than NHL’ers 13 to 12. Both Alexander Ovechkin and Semin return to the Worlds’ stage having been absent last year since the Washington Capitals were deep in the playoffs.

Also returning is reigning MVP Ilya Kovalchuk who played on both gold medal teams while being on the Atlanta Thrashers who failed to make the playoffs both years. This time Kovalchuk is a New Jersey Devil until free agency starts and would probably prefer to be playing in the NHL this time of year opposed to with the National team. New faces from the NHL include Artem Aninvsov of the New York Rangers who has only played with the team’s junior squad and Dmitry Kulikov of the Florida Panthers who like Aninvsov has never gotten the call for top team.

Both Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov of the KHL will be reunited with their former Capitals teammates just like in Vancouver and hope to spark some sort of chemistry if Bykov decides to play them together at any time. It will be interesting to see if the mix between the KHL’ers and NHL’ers will be a factor as many claimed it was the reason Russia collapsed against Canada at the Olympics but hopefully this mix plus the bigger ice surface will be the key to the team’s success as they go for the three-peat.

Below is the roster that is headed to Germany. According to the rules, two more names can be added to the list for the second round of the tournament

Goalkeepers:
Alexander Eremenko (Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
Vasily Koshechkin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
Semyon Varlamov (Washington Capitals)

Defencemen:
Konstantin Korneev (CSKA Moscow)
Vitaly Atyushov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
Dmitriy Kalinin (Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
Ilya Nikulin (Ak Bars Kazan)
Alexei Emelin (Ak Bars Kazan)
Denis Grebeshkov (Nashville Predators)
Dmitry Kulikov (Florida Panthers)

Forwards:
Maxim Afinogenov (Atlanta Thrashers)
Evgeny Artyukhin (Atlanta Thrashers)
Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Alexander Semin (Washington Capitals)
Alexei Tereschenko (Ak Bars Kazan)
Artem Anisimov (New York Rangers)
Ilya Kovalchuk (New Jersey Devils)
Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Maxim Sushinsky (SKA St. Petersburg)
Sergei Mozyakin (Atlant Mytischi)
Sergei Fedorov (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
Viktor Kozlov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
Alexander Frolov (Los Angeles Kings)
Alexander Svitov (Avangard Omsk)

Russia Wins Group B With a Great Display of Hart

95657025MW059_Ice_Hockey_Da(Courtesy of Alex Livesey/Getty Images/

Losing in a shootout on Thursday to Slovakia did not sit well with anybody in the Russian locker room.

But despite dropping crucial points, the team remained upbeat even though they knew they had a lot of work to do. So in practice, they worked. They changed up the line combinations, they endlessly worked on the power play, but maybe most important, they quickly became a very motivated bunch.

In nature, their next task was not complicated. Beat the Czech Republic in regulation and the group was theirs. Take anything less than the full three points and they would face the possibility of no first-round bye in the knockout stage.

But actually completing that simple task would take every amount of skill and passion the Sbornaya had.

The game began at a rather slow pace, as the teams attempted to figure each other out. Slava Bykov sent out a unit of Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin to start. But a few heavy hits and odd man rushes by the Great 8 set the tone and it was immediately noticeable that Russia had came to play.

About half way through the period, Russia got its first chance at redemption on the power play when Ilya Kovalchuk was upended in the neutral zone by Petr Cajanek.

Except instead, the Czechs put on a terrific display of penalty killing, never allowing the Russian power play to get set up. Or really even cross the blue line for that matter, as they capably shut everything down before it even got started. An utter waste of two minutes.

But, not even two minutes later, the Czechs took another penalty.

This time, the Russian power play managed to get set up and it paid quick divends. Sergei Gonchar managed to get a puck through, and the rebound was slammed just wide by Ovechkin. It then took a friendly ricochet to Malkin, who fired it home top-shelf.

1-0 to Russia, and Malkin scores his second power play goal of the tournament.

After the goal, the Czechs began to rebuild some momentum as they managed to get into the offensive zone. But they still were not getting any pucks on the net. Russia was also showing that they were much more committed to taking the body any time possible, always finishing checks.

Disaster struck for Russia late in the period, as they took two penalties in rapid succession, giving the Czechs a five-on-three for 1:47.

With a minute left before the horn, the Czech Republic took advantage of a failed clearance, as Tomas Plekanec scored to tie the game. San Jose Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov had came out, being a little too aggressive, and Plekanec found the outside corner.

The beginning of the second period was much more subdued after the thrilling first.

But once again, Russia was carrying the even strength play and hardly allowing anything the other way. They also seemed to build momentum from a killed penalty to Semin, where the Czechs were not allowed to set up much of anything.

Taking matters into his own hands, Alexander Radulov drove down the center, distracting two defenders before shuffling it off for Viktor Kozlov. With one quick swirling motion, the big man from Togliatti beat Tomas Vokoun far post to regain the lead for Russia.

After killing another penalty, the worst possible two-on-one situation occured.

Sergei Zinoviev was streaking in alongside Radulov but instead of shooting when he took the pass, Radulov instead tried to return it to Zinoviev, which failed dismally thanks to the rough ice. But chasing the puck into a corner, Radulov leveled a Czech defender, essentially throwing him onto Zinoviev.

Zinoviev would leave the ice gingerly and the Czechs headed to a power play.

However, no damage was done and the teams headed peacefully to the lockers.

Starting off the third period, Russia killed the remainder of Radulov’s penalty, but the turning moment in the game came soon after that. Ovechkin absolutely demolished Jaromir Jagr at center ice, allowing his teammate Semin to break in uncontested. Soaring down the left wall, Semin made a terrific pass across to Malkin, who clinically fired it past Vokoun. The man from the Magnetic Mountain had his third goal in as many games.

In a matter of seven seconds, the entire course of Group B changed. Ovechkin’s hit angered Roman Polak, who left his assignment on Malkin to retaliate on Alex the Great.

Just like that, Russia had a two goal lead and the Czech bench was floored.

The Czechs then had to alter their strategy, as the defense started taking a few more chances. They were getting a few more opportunites up front, but they also gave up breakaways to Kovalchuk and Radulov. Each time, Vokoun was up to the task, as he almost always is.

With five minutes left, Milan Michalek injected life into the Czechs, scoring easily from a few feet in front of Nabokov. Nothing he was going to do about that.

3-2 Russia.

The crowd could sense a terrific end in store. Whatever kitchen sink the Czechs had, they were about to throw it at Nabokov in an effort to tie the game. But Nabokov stood tall, making several huge saves.

With the game on the line and an empty net for the Czechs, Russia showed it’s true Hart.

Ovechkin first delivered another big hit along the boards to free the puck. He quickly moved it out for Malkin in front of the bench. Instead of just dumping the puck deep, Malkin had his head up and found Pavel Datsyuk arriving late.

Datsyuk then manuevered into the Czech zone and deposited the puck into the wide open net.

In a group-winning play, all three Hart Trophy finalists from 2008 teamed up to produce the goal that saw Russia earn the important first-round bye.

Two goals for Malkin, two assists for Ovechkin, and a goal/assist for Datsyuk. Seven points in all between the three.

Russia is victorious, 4-2.

What did Russia do well?

Effort

First and foremost, the total team effort given by this team doubled both of the previous two games put together. It was a must-win game and they treated it like such.

From sacrificing the body to playing through pain, this team came together in a big way and did more than just redeem themselves from a poor performance against Slovakia. When they play as inspired as they did here, they proved to everyone they are indeed a Gold medal contender.

Penalty Killing

Once again, the penalty killing unit was elite. Although they did allow a 5-on-3 goal at the end of the first period, the group improved throughout the game. Datsyuk was incredibly solid here, as several times he was able to defend against two players at once on the point.

His play made the Czech point men force the play more than they would have liked. Anton Volchenkov also had a great game down low, getting in the way of more than a couple shots on the PK. The success with the man disadvantage has been a very pleasant surprise, as the area was not expected to be incredibly strong.

Simplicity

For the vast majority of the afternoon, they kept it simple. Never over-passing like they had done in the previous two games, never trying to do too much.

Consistently, they were getting to high scoring areas, putting themselves in a position to make something happen. The power play might have only scored one goal, but it looked deadly each time out and it was more a tribute to the fine play of Vokoun in net that the Sbornaya did not have more on the power play.

What needs to improve before the quarterfinals?

Discipline

Russia took a few too many penalties and that could come back to haunt them in the later rounds. While some of the penalties were unavoidable, there were some that need to be eliminated.

Offensive-zone penalties like the one Radulov took after a missed 2-on-1 are not good. Shooting the puck out of the rink while on defense isn’t good either.

Faceoffs

Nearly every defensive-zone faceoff or faceoffs on the penalty kill, the Czechs won it. Russia was thoroughly dominated in the circle and the only reason it wasn’t more pronouced was because they were winning battles against the wall and outplaying the Czechs at even strength.

But the faceoff percentage needs to improve or find a way to get the best faceoff men on the ice in key situations.

Clearances

While the penalty killing was great, one aspect of it was not at all. At least five different occasions, Russian players had the opportunity to clear the puck out of the zone after winning possession, but just couldn’t do it.

They would clear it back to the points, try to lob defensemen only to have it fail, or give the puck right back because they were looking for the deep pass.

It’s not a major problem, but just needs to be worked out in practice.

Grades (out of 10)

Black Line (Ovechkin, Semin, Malkin, Gonchar, Tyutin): 9. From the second the puck was dropped, this newly formed group was utterly dominant and brought excitement every time they got to the offensive zone. Ovechkin and Malkin showed exactly why they are two of the best players in the world.

Red Line (Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, Grebeshkov, Korneev): 7. Showed some decent chemistry. Datsyuk had a phenomenal game and Kovalchuk had his moments but Afinogenov never made an impact.

Blue Line (Zinoviev, Zaripov, Morozov, Markov, Nikulin): 6.5. Not a particularly strong game from any one player, but they played decently. Morozov and Zaripov both had their chances on the power play and did next to nothing. Markov passed up on a wide open shot from four feet away.

White Line (Fedorov, Kozlov, Radulov, Volchenkov, Kalinin): 8. A very strong performance. Fedorov once again had a nice defensive game, Kozlov scored on a pass from Radulov and Volchenkov was the penalty kill leader. Were currectly awarded with bonus playing time.

Notes

Russia, with seven points from three games, clinches the bye into the quarterfinals.

Nabokov will most likely get every start from here on.

Below is Ovechkin’s hit on Jagr and the ensuing Malkin goal.

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

Sergei Fedorov back in the USSR?

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According to Russian media sources, Sergei Fedorov, of the Washington Capitals has agreed to principal to play for two seasons in the KHL for a reported $3.8 million per season. Earlier we reported that the 39-year-old Fedorov sounded set on returning to the Caps but it looks like he will be joining Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

If he does in fact leave he would be the all-time point leader for a Russian born player in NHL history with 1,179 points. According to Caps beat writer Tarik El-Bashir, Fedorov’s people are waiting for a counter offer from the team. It is also plausible that Viktor Kozlov will too go back to Russia with reports suggesting he is destined for St.Petersburg

Comrade of the Night-Viktor Kozlov

courtesy of Getty Images)

Viktor Kozlov get’s the latest COTN honor as he scored two masterful goals on his deadly wrist shot. Kozlov would beat Marc Andre-Fleury in the second period to tie the game and then again in the third to give the Caps the lead.

His team would win in overtime to force a game 7 on Wednesday. Kozlov has 4 goals and 2 assists in the post season and is a +4. Below are his goals courtesy of the NHL.

Round 2 Preview:Capitals vs Penguins

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After becoming the 21st team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit, the Washington Capitals head back to the second round for the first time in 11 years. Alex Ovechkin and company meet a familiar foe in round two as they welcome the fourth seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. Led by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby the Penguins Capitals match-up sees two of the league’s faces go head to head in a series which might go 7 games.

Crosby vs Ovechkin, Ovechkin vs Malkin, Semin vs Crosby, the Russian 5 vs the Russian duo, the headlines are endless with this series as not only do the NHL’s brigthest stars go head to head but Russia’s as well. It was not too long ago that Ovechkin and Malkin were feuding before Ilya Kovalchuk intervened at the all-star game in Montreal resulting in this kiss and make up moment.

Now the two players who are  nominated  for the league’s MVP and who will no doubt be featured in Russia’s roster come 2010 in Vancouver will go toe-to-toe on the biggest stage of their NHL careers thus far.  Not to mention Malkin’s teammate Crosby has been critical of Ovechkin’s cheap shots with the players having to be separated in a game back in February. Who can forget the now infamous “what’s so special about Crosby?” line by Alexander Semin.

The NHL’s dream match up has specfically been delayed to start tomorrow so it can be broadcasted on national televsion (NBC 1 pm).

Both teams have plenty of fire power with the usual suspects as well as Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov, Niklas Backstrom, Ruslan Fedetenko, Tyler Kennedy etc.  Both blue lines feature prominent players such as Mike”time to wake up” Green for the Caps and Sergei”hey remember me?”Gonchar who was tops in ice time last round.

The battle between the pipes will be interesting as rookie sensation Simeon Varlamov(who I hear might pay top ruble for this domain) will take on Marc-Andre Fleury who only had to stand on his head in round 1 against the Flyers. Fleury is the key to the Penguins success having led them to the Cup last year while Varlamov still has under 12 games in his pro career.

Caps in 7

Russians in the mix: Wash-Fedorov, Kozlov, Ovechkin, Semin, Varlamov Pitt:Gonchar, Fedetenko, Malkin