Which Russian NHL’er Will Have the Worst Olympic Hangover?

(courtesy of Mark Humphrey)

The Sochi games have come and gone. Dreams were broken, bears cried, and one of the tournaments favorites fell flat on their faces, again. The focus now shifts back to the remainder of the NHL season as teams attempt to make a push for the post season in search of Lord Stanley’s mug.

Here, we will look at all the NHL participants who represented Team Russia, their impact or lack there-of, and attempt to predict how it affects their play going forward back in their adopted home.

The “Vets”

With one game on the NHL calendar in the books at the time of this article it only makes sense to start with Alexander Semin. Everything having to do with Semin and Team Russia is always interesting. In the latest chapter of “Sasha For Russia” the forgotten star is initially left off the Olympic roster, only to be added, plays on the top line before being dropped to the third, in his return to the NHL he scores a doozy.

In Sochi, Semin was throwing pucks at the net from every which angle imaginable. Tough angles, no angles, you name it, he’d try. His desperate play was rewarded with just one assist but his performance is lost on most thanks to the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin having dreadful tournaments.

Going forward, it’s a real crap shoot with Carolina’s winger because you can never predict anything with Semin. After being left off the roster he was lights out, before that? Damn near invisible/hurt. Prediction: He finishes in top three scoring for the Canes. Since he seemed to have the desire to help his native land it will carry over to help his team return to the post season after a four-year absence.

Evgeni Malkin was flying low on the radar of the Ovi-lympics and was once again put on a line with his fellow 2004 draftee to spearhead the Russian offense. That experiment really paid off for head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov… for about 5 minutes of the tournament. Malkin fed Ovechkin for the first Russian tally of the tournament and Ovechkin would pay him back minutes later. It was a dream start and by the time the Olympics ended you wished you’d be woken up sooner.

Malkin would get one more assist in that same game and that was it for his offensive contribution. While he doubled Alex Semin’s shot total for the tournament he could never seem to get it going and his tricks that often work so well in Pittsburgh just weren’t working. Prediction: He plays a big part in helping Sidney Crosby win the Hart Trophy, puts up his fifth consecutive 60+ point season and his team goes deep into the spring.

As for Ovechkin, his horrendous tournament and terrible off-ice situation puts him in a rut. While I don’t think he loses the Rocket Richard race, I wouldn’t be surprised if he went 5-10 games without scoring a goal. Prediction: Gets off to a painfully slow start only to score 20 times the goals he scored for Russia.

Nikoali Kulemin was apparently on this team and if you watched any of the games, you probably wouldn’t have noticed. Kulemin didnt’t really do much of anything for Russia and I’m starting to wonder how on earth he even made this roster. Aside from taking a single penalty I’m pretty sure his name was never uttered by any announcer. Prediction: Kulemin picks up some points on his lackluster season and makes himself look like Sidney Crosby compared to David Clarkson.

Pavel Datsyuk
was the lone bright spot for Russia as far as NHL forwards go. His two goals against the US were the only two to beat Jonathan Quick (ones that counted at least) and along with 4 helpers he tied for most points on the team. Despite a nagging injury, Datsyuk exemplified the heart and soul of the Russian team and should he stay off the IR, he could be who the Red Wings depend on as their injury plagued season nears the final stretch. Prediction: Much like he did with Russia, Datsyuk puts the Wings on his back as they push to extended their impressive post-season appearance streak.

The Young Guns

Valeri Nichushkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Artem Anismov all had several things in common. They never represented their country with the senior team, they were sparsely used compared to their counterparts, and aside from Nichushkin none of them could light the lamp once. It’s a good thing that no one is looking at this tournament to gauge how the future of Russian hockey looks. These guys were at least visible throughout the games and while their names might have been overshadowed by the games biggest stars it was never on their shoulders.

Before being benched, Nichushkin looked to be one of Russia’s best players at times while scoring quite the goal against Slovenia. Just his size and power should make the fans in Dallas happy they have a star in the making (pun intended). Nichushkin scored as many goals as Ovechkin. That’s saying something.

Prediction: You can tell the moment he was benched that he was not happy and this will motivate him even more to help Dallas secure a playoff spot after missing out for the past five years. While he won’t be in contention for the Calder you can bet his name will remain in the conversation.

Prediction for Anisimov and Tarasenko, neither of these guys are relied on for the majority of their respective teams offense and they have nothing to hang their heads for. They’re both having career years and nothing should stop their play from deteriorating espeically not the Olympics.

The Defense

Its always hard to analyze defensemen because one bad play can erase 100 good ones. No two defensive gaffes were worse than the ones committed by Nikita Niktin and Slava Voynov against Finland. Nikitin looked like a traffic cone once Juhamatti Aaltonen shaked and baked him before tying the game for the FInns.

Voynov on the other hand was simply out hustled by Mikal Granlund which shouldn’t be happening for a guy who is a top defensemen for his team. Will this make them any less confident when they line-up against fellow NHLers? Doubtful.

The defense as a whole was actually solid for Russia having allowed 8 goals and helping with two shutouts. It’s the little things that get over-looked and you would be a damn fool to pin the latest and greatest Olympic failure on the blue-liners.

Of all the Russian D-men, the one affected most will be Fedor Tyutin and not because his goal was disallowed but because his sprained ankle will keep him on the shelf for Columbus during the most vital time. Heading into the Olympic break, Tyutin was on pace for a career season and his veteran presence will surely be missed for a team that’s on the bubble for the second straight year.

Anton Belov was a surprise pick for Sochi and his play was even more surprising. He has quite the cannon from the point and eventually those pucks should find their way to the back of the net for the remainder of his rookie campaign. He and Voynov are the future for Russia’s blue-line and if the country can develop a few more like them, things should be tolerable moving forward.

Goaltenders:

Both Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov took turns sharing the crease and the pine in Sochi, only one of them, however, will be affected. Varlamov allowed two goals in his first game while Bobrovsky followed suit by allowing two himself in regulation. Both then had a shutout each until Varlamov unravled against the game in Finland. Three rather weak goals and the Samara native was practically in tears as he was replaced by Bobrovsky who looked incredible for the remainder of the game as the Olympics came to a screeching halt for their team.

Prediction: Bobrovsky continues his strong play and is the reason the Blue Jackets make the playoffs. Varlamov doesn’t recover nearly as well as his starting role comes into jeopardy by either Jean-Sébastien Giguère or an outside hire as rumors of their team looking at other options have circulated around the inter webs.

Sure, we can be dead wrong on all fronts with these predictions but there is no way not one of the aforementioned players jump back into the NHL and just aren’t the same after what was another heartbreaking failure for Mother Russia.


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