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Alex Semin the scapegoat as Russians scramble lines, search for goals

Dmitry Chesnokov
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Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 6 - Russia v Slovenia
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SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Alexander Semin #28 of Russia skates against Slovenia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia -- After yesterday’s win against Slovakia, the Russians decided not to skip their practice on their day off.

“We won’t have a morning skate tomorrow, so today’s practice was very important.” Evgeni Malkin said. “Because some changes to the lines were made, it was important to practice. Kovalchuk is injured, so he didn’t practice. But everyone else was here, skating.”

As soon as the players were on the ice Ilya Kovalchuk’s absence became a concern. As a reminder, Kovalchuk fell awkwardly after colliding with a Slovakian player in the second period of the game on Sunday. Kovalchuk tried to skate the injury off, but was taken to the locker room midway through the period, but returned for the start of the third and scored for Russia in the shootout. The coaching staff decided to rest Kovalchuk today as a precaution, but Coach Bilyaletdinov said after practice that Kovalchuk will play against Norway.

One of the biggest changes that emerged is the demotion of Alexander Semin from the Malkin-Ovechkin line to the third line to Artem Anisimov and Nikolai Kulemin. That also meant the demotion to the fourth line for Vladimir Tarasenko. Alexander Popov jumped from the fourth line straight to the right wing of Malkin and Ovechkin.

“Of course there will be changes after today’s practice.” Evgeni Malkin said after the game. “Some of the changes have already been made. I am going to be playing on one line with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Popov.”

It is worth noting that Popov and Malkin developed quite a chemistry playing for Russia in the 2012 IIHF World Championships where both became World Champions.

As for Alexander Semin, he has again become the scapegoat on the team where everyone, including his now former linemates, are struggling to score.

"But everyone is still working very, very hard because it doesn’t matter at all what line you are playing on.” Malkin said of the line changes. “It doesn’t matter how much ice time you’re getting. What matters is that we win.”

Viktor Tikhonov took Kovalchuk’s role in practice alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Radulov, who, unlike Semin and Tarasenko, is immune from any corrective actions. Tikhonov also filled Kovalchuk’s role on the first unit of the Russian power play. That power play practice took over half an hour, followed by the shootout practice.

“First and foremost our power play is the shortcoming we need to address.” Malkin said. “We get a lot of power plays, but we just can’t convert. That’s why we were working on our power play for a very long time today in practice. We will see how it is going to work now.”

Malkin also talked about Ovechkin and Semin, and the lack of scoring for Russia.

“No doubt they are excellent players.” He said. “Yes, not everything is working out the way it should, they haven’t scored their goals, but nevertheless there are a lot of games ahead of us so the hope is they will get better, and we will all get better, because everyone on the team can play better. Confidence is the main thing. You score that goal and then everything will go smoothly.”

Yet there was no sense of desperation coming from the Russian team. It was business as usual.

“We need to play a conservative game.” Malkin explained. “At the same time everyone expects us to win. Ourselves, we also know that we have to win. Nothing terrible has happened. We still know how to play. Norway is a good team, but I think we have everything to win. We are the favorites in that game. So we have to play offense, control the puck. I think everything will turn out great.”

“There is no pressure.” Coach Bilyaletdinov said. “We are OK.”

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