World Cup of Hockey: Team Russia preview (Puck Daddy)

Yahoo
Yahoo

The World Cup of Hockey is back, with the NHL-backed tournament scheduled for the next few weeks in lovely Toronto. Yahoo Sports will offer on-site coverage from the event; but first, here’s a look at the six nations and the two made-up teams that will battle for the funny-looking trophy.

RUSSIA

Schedule

Sunday, Sept. 18 – Group B preliminary vs. Sweden, 3 p.m. ET

Monday, Sept. 19 – Group B preliminary vs. North America, 8 p.m. ET

Thursday, Sept. 22 – Group B preliminary vs. Finland, 3 p.m. ET

Vitals

Career NHL Games – 7,108
Career NHL Goals (Skaters) – 1,794
Career NHL Assists (Skaters) – 2,786
Career NHL Points (Skaters) – 4,580
Career NHL Wins (Goaltenders) – 321
Average Age – 27.4
Average Height (Inches) – 73.0
Average Weight (Pounds) – 199.9
Stanley Cups – 4

Forwards

Goal-scoring will not be the problem for Team Russia.

Alex Oveckhin, who has led the NHL in goals for the last four seasons, will likely skate on a line with Pavel Datsyuk (of the KHL … tears) and fellow sniper Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko are expected to be paired, likely with Nik Kulemin to start but potentially with Artemi Panarin, who showed he can hang with elite talent in winning the Calder on Patrick Kane’s line last season. If not, he might see time with KHL stalwarts Vadim Shipachyov and former Florida Panthers forward Evgenii Dadonov.

Oh yeah, on their other forward line: Artem Anisimov and some young buck named Evgeny Kuznetsov, who led the Washington Capitals in points last season.

Da!

Defense

Defense will be the problem for Team Russia.

As goalie Semyon Varlamov noted to us this week, this isn’t the KHL-centric group you might expect to see at, say, the IIHF world championships. These defensemen do have NHL experience, but they fall short of the talent and experience you’ll find on the tournament’s expected favorites.

Dmitry Orlov of the Washington Capitals is paired with Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Montreal’s Andre Markov and Alexei Emelin are the second pairing. Dmitry Kulikov of the Sabres and Alexei Marchenk of the Red Wings round out the group, with Nikita Nesterov of the Lightning in the mix.

It’s not the worst defense in the tournament thanks to the existence of the Czech Republic, but it’s this team’s worst aspect.

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky gets the nod as starter for the Russians out of the gate, coming off a poor NHL season with the Columbus Blue Jackets but looking sharp in the World Cup exhibitions. (And having played for head coach Oleg Znarok at worlds.) Semyon Varlamov and Andrei Vasilevskiy are the other two netminders, with Varlamov expected to take over if Bobrovsky falters. “We will start with Sergei Bobrovsky and then we’ll see how it goes,” said head coach Oleg Znarok.

Grade The Jerseys

NHL
NHL

A-minus

Those are some fine looking sweaters, with the road white one especially notable for having the adidas stripes looking like a militaristic adornment.

Special Teams

For all the expectations about Russia scoring at will on the power play, it was 2-for-16 in the three exhibition games. Now, granted, it looked positively lethal at times, with Russia just toying with opposing penalty kills. Best to stay out of the box against Ovechkin, Tarasenko and the power play.

On the kill, Russia stopped opponents on 11 of 12 power plays in the exhibition games. Dmitry Kulikov, forward Ivan Telegin, Anisimov and Datsyuk should see time on the PK.

Coach

Oleg Znarok is a three-time coach of the year in the KHL, twice with Dynamo Moscow, and he now coaches SKA. He’s won goal, silver and bronze coaching Russia at the IIHF worlds, and also coached the Latvian national team.

He has many toys with which to play on this team, but all eyes will be on how he gets the Russians structured defensively and calm in the face of adversity.

GettyImages-600638628
GettyImages-600638628

They’ll Make It Out of Group Play If …

The defense is better than expected and/or the goaltending makes up for its deficiencies. Bobrovsky and Varlamov can win games on their own, and it’s not impossible to think that one or both could do so in this group. Or they win two games 8-7. One of the two.

They’ll Flop At The World Cup If …

They melt down. Russia has earned a reputation in worlds and the Olympics for failing to excel in pressure situations. Sometimes it’s a goalie meltdown. Sometimes it’s playing down to the competition. Whatever the case, the leaders on this team and the men behind the bench have to manage the emotions if the going gets rough in Group B.

Prediction

We’d be shocked if Sweden didn’t win the group. Finland isn’t nearly as good as its reputation. Which means it could be Russia vs. North America for that second seed in the semifinals, and that comes down to whether the kids are ready for primetime. Top to bottom, Russia’s likely the third-best team in the group.

Previous World Cup previews
Czech Republic
Canada
Team North America
Finland

Sweden
USA
Team Europe

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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