February 10, 2009

2010 Olympic Preview: Russia

Team Russia promises to be a most formidable challenger for Olympic gold at the 2010 games in Vancouver. They are blessed with goaltending and offense, not to mention the best player in the world.

Forwards - The Russians offer perhaps the most lethal collection of offensive forwards of any nation. Boasting the world's best player Alexander Ovechkin, the Russians also feature Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin and a maturing Ilya Kovalchuk, are all among the most elite of players. There is no lack of offensive fire power here.

The question becomes do they have the depth on the bottom two lines?

Alexei Kovalev will likely be the veteran presence of the team. Do not count on Sergei Fedorov, who has had a love-hate relationship with Russian national teams of the past. If he makes this team, it will be because of Ovechkin's insistence. Slava Kozlov could be another veteran presence.

Los Angeles' Alexander Frolov and New York's Nikolai Zherdev are intriguing players.

We have to expect at least two or three players from the KHL to fill out the Russian forward lines. Aleksey Morozov, Alexander Radulov, Maxim Sushinski and dare I say Alexei Yashin are all candidates. Pencil in Oleg Saprykin, who played a nice buzzsaw role when in the NHL and could be a nice 4th liner.

Defense - The Russian defense corps are very thin, and therefore the team's weakness.

Health permitting, super passers Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar will anchor the blue line.

Anton Volchenkov, Vitaly Vishnevski, Denis Grebshkov, Fedor Tyutin, Dmitri Kalinin and KHLers Ilya Nikulin and Vitali Proshkin will round out a less than fearsome back end.

Do not count on Sergei Zubov. Like several veteran Russians he has declined to play for the national team in the past. And he's been riddled with injuries.

With their high end offense, the Russians can survive a weak blue line so long as the rear guards are apt at moving the puck to spring the forwards free.

Goaltenders - Also masking a weak blue line will be strong goaltending. The Russians will have Evgeni Nabokov, Nikolai Khabibulin and Ilya Bryzgalov to choose from. All three are legitimate number ones.

Summary - With their top end talent the Russians have to be consider co-favorites along with Canada for the gold medal. The eternal Canada-Russia rivalry looks ready to boil over again.


Anonymous said...

Agree that defense is the weakest line, but there are also Anton Babchuk, Alexei Zhitnik, Daniil Markov, Dmitry Bykov and another 3-5 guys of Proshkin/Nikulin caliber playing in KHL.
There won't be any place for Yashin and Sushinski for sure. At the same time Danis Zaripov (Morozov's linemate at Ak Bars) is 100% candidate if healthy as well as at least one more center from KHL – Sergei Zinoviev, Alexei Tereschenko or Petr Schastlivy seems to be a little bit closer to the Olympic roster than Andrei Taratukhin or Ivan Nepryaev. And a lot of additional depth on the wings – Alexander Korolyuk (playing terrific this season), Alexander Perezhogin, Sergei Mozyakin, Dmitri Afanasenkov, Alexei Mikhnov to name a few.

Alex said...

As far as Defense is concerned, I wouldn't be too worried. Markov is the best Offensive D-Man in the NHL currently. Gonch is always solid. Volchenkov is also fantastic on the Defensive side. Does NHL blocked shots leader not say much? Tyutin I have always liked as an NHL 2nd pair guy and a 3rd pair nationally. He's also a very nice guy, met him once. Babchuk is very underrated. He can unleash a bullet of a shot, and should make the team. Nikulin showed a lot during the last IIHF tournament.

Bottom line, with or without NHLers playing Russia will win.

Buckeye Airon said...

Does Nikita Filitov get a shot?