SOCHI, Russia -- Oh where, oh where, has the Russian scoring gone? Oh where, oh where, can it be?
That’s something the Russians have to find quickly. The firepower of the Russian offense, praised by many before the Olympics began, is shooting blanks.
Alex Ovechkin and the company came into the game against Slovakia on Saturday hoping to rebound after an emotional loss to the United States. Russia was expected to win the game quite comfortably, as Slovakia had lost to the U.S. and Slovenia in Sochi already; and had Jan Laco, who plays in the KHL, in goal. But the Slovakians frustrated the Russians outworking and outshooting them.
“I am not sure why this game was so difficult for us.” Alexander Semin told me after the 1-0 shootout win for Russia (2-0-1).
“Maybe their goaltender was a little bit uncomfortable for us. We had so many lost chances that I don’t even know what happened to us. It’s like we had chances, we were trying to create chances, but we only had a handful of shots on goal in the first period. Something was amiss. The power play is the main thing. And we have a problem with that. We now have one day to rest, to practice. We need to work and, I think, everything will be good in the next game.”
Team Russia looked tired and disorganized, careless with the puck and overall not what it is expected to be. Alexander Radulov, the anti-hero of the game against USA, was in the lineup, after the Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov hinted on Saturday that Radulov may be scratched.
But today he wondered why people were even talking about it.
“What do you want us to do?” the coach asked. “Do you want us to punish him? I think he was good today. He tried, he scored on a penalty shot.”
The Ovechkin-Malkin-Semin line looked dangerous, but something just wasn’t there on Sunday for them. It does feel like Evgeni Malkin is due to break through and score, hoping that the floodgates would open then. Of the huge expectations on this line’s shoulders Semin said: “We do have chances, but something isn’t working yet. I am not sure what. And it’s not like there are little children who come out to play against us. They are big time players, just like us.”
And as for himself looking for his first goal Semin added “It’s important not to get fixated on that. I just need to play my game, and the scoring will come. I will, of course, try to work harder myself. But the important thing is that the team is winning.”
Alex Ovechkin had the same sentiment saying “We had our chances. It is too bad that we couldn’t win in regulation. We were not tired after the game against the United States, but we felt a lot of responsibility coming into this game. We tried to win, that’s all.”
Pavel Datsyuk felt that the loss to the United States took an emotional toll on Team Russia. “We lacked a clear head, calm nerves and a cold heart.” The captain said. “Last game was very emotional, and today everyone wanted to score. And at times we were making wrong decisions.”
Those decisions Datsyuk mentioned were in the form of resorting to going to the Slovak net alone, trying to crash three-four Slovak players through the center. That was the sign of tiredness and frustration. Russia did rebound in the third period outshooting the Slovaks 15-2, thanks to three power plays.
“I think we created enough chances not for this game, but for more than one game.” Ilya Kovalchuk said after the game. “We need to capitalize on what we create.”
The power play, or rather the lack of scoring on power play, is a story of its own for Team Russia.
“We will to work on that. Thank you for the help,” Pavel Datsyuk thanked the Russian media for the concern they expressed for the Russian power play.
It is interesting to note that the coaching staff has not tried to reshuffle the units. Alex Ovechkin is playing on the left point with Ilya Kovalchuk along the half boards. Perhaps it would be wise to switch the two – it seemed to work better for both in the NHL.
I asked coach Bilyaletdinov whether he considered making a change. “We thought about it, but didn’t think it was necessary. Maybe we did need to switch someone around, but there was no certainty about that.”
“We are not satisfied with the lack of scoring.” Bilyaletdinov continued. “We want them to score because the level of these players is very high. They are capable of scoring not one, but two, three goals on power play. Maybe we need to change something. We do have one day. We will see then.”
There was a major injury scare for the Russians in the middle of the second period when Ilya Kovalchuk fell awkwardly after an innocent collision with a Slovak player. Ilya cringed in pain and skated to the bench, where his knee was looked at. After trying to skate the injury off during a commercial break, Kovalchuk headed to the locker room and did not return until the start of the third period. “Let’s not talk about this topic for later. Everything should be ok.” Kovalchuk said after the game.
Unable to win in regulation, Russia now gets to play an extra game, most likely against Norway. This could be a perfect opportunity for the team to finally shake this non-scoring monkey off their backs in what may be another exhibition type game, even though all of them matter at the Olympics.
“We get a day off.” Alexander Semin said. “And then we play again on Tuesday. Maybe it’s better for us to always be in game shape.”
Alex Ovechkin added “I don’t think it matters how many games you play. This is the Olympics. You have to get ready to play to the best of your abilities.”
“This is not going to be a practice game,” Bilyaletdinov said. “There won’t be easy games here. This will be a serious game, and we need to seriously prepare for it.
It is the day for the coaching staff to make decisions: about their lines, about the power play, about the starting goaltender, and about the direction this team is headed. There is no more room for error.