February 16, 2010

KHL Line Brings Back Memories of 1972 Soviet Kid Line

Twitter is all abuzz with coverage of men's hockey practices today, specifically with line combinations in mind. Here are the Russian five man units:

Ovechkin-Datsyuk-Semin - Grebeshkov-Korneev
Kovalchuk-Malkin-Afinogenov - Tyutin-Gonchar
Kozlov-Fedorov-Radulov - Kalinin-Volchenkov
Zaripov-Zinoviev-Morozov - Markov-Nikulin

Wow, Datsyuk with Ovechkin and Semin. Up front this may be the strongest Russian team ever. I suspect Markov, when completely healthy, will find himself moving up to the Ovechkin unit.

This sort of stuff of course gets all the talking heads going. Many of these so-called experts try to fool us by imparting their knowledge upon them. In reality many of them are just downright ignorant.

Many of them (I won't name names, although there is one popular Team 1040 Vancouver radio host I would love to call out) will try telling you that KHL players are the weakness on the team and will lead to their downfall. They are not the same caliber as Russian NHLers left off the team with the name of Alexander Frolov from Los Angeles most commonly mentioned. That 4th line of NHL unknowns in particular is weak.

Wrong. Wrong! WRONG!

Fedorov needs no introduction. He will be the versatile forward and veteran leader this team needs. Radulov is yet another a pure sniper, like the Russians lack that. And Kozlov, well I don't know anyone who is a big fan of him, but he does provide a big body presence that they will need against Canada.

Then there is the KHL's greatest line of Zaripov, Zinoviev and Morozov. It doesn't take a lot of research to find out what these three have accomplished together. They may appear to be Russia's 4th line, but in reality they are 4th offensive juggernaut. And since most of us have never seen them in action, they are a true surprise attack. I especially like Zinoviev, who is a classic Russian centerman, elegant and economical, excellent defensively and at distributing the puck.

This surprise KHL line reminds of the Soviet Line back in 1972.

In the 1972 Summit Series the Russians shocked and awed us in game one. After we defeated them in game two we thought we had seen the best they had to offer. By now the Kharlamovs and Mikhailovs and Petrovs were common dinner table discussion.

For game three the Soviets through a whole new line at us, introducing three youngsters that we did not even know existed. Vyacheslav Anisin, Alexander Bodunov and Yuri Lebedev. This new troika was spectacular in game three. Down by 2 goals, Anisin set up each of his wingers for goals, saving a 4-4 tie in Winnipeg.

That night they were the talk of Canada, as they appeared to be the future of Soviet hockey. Time would prove that that particular game was the peak of their career, as they never really emerged as Canadians expected, anyways. But their surprise attack in this one game gave Canada a significant blow in 1972.

One game. That's all it took in 1972. That's all it will take in 2010, too.


Michael Langlois said...

Great analysis Joe. And some unique insight in comparing the current Russian "fourth line" with the release of the surprise kid troika in '72. Historical parallels are not only interesting, they sometimes are prophetic. No one expected the Americans to repeat their 1960s home soil Olympic hockey success in 1980, but they did. Thanks for this piece.
Michael Langlois "Vintage Leaf" http://vintageleafmemories.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

There will be only one way to beat this Russian offensive juggernaut and that's to continually get to their only achilles heel, their defense.

Unless teams can keep the Russians on their heels as much as possible and from their own end it'll be a near-impossible task to take them down. A historical parallel is the 2008 WHC Gold Medal game in Quebec City where Team Canada absolutely dominated the Russians in the 1st period and could have easily had a 6-1 lead, not the 4-1 lead they got.

Unfortunately, coach Ken Hitchcock went for a defensive style even benching Canada's most mobile, control defensman Mike Green for most of the 3rd period. End result was disaster as the Russians took over momentum in the 2nd, came in waves in the 3rd then struck with a power-play goal to win in Overtime.

Their defense is not world caliber and if it weren't for the fact they'll have Nabakov in the nets the Russians would be lucky to make it past the quarter-finals.

The next 2 weeks will be interesting to see if any team can prove that even the best Russians can't score from their own end or if they don't have possession of the puck.

Dennis said...

Hi Joe. The Soviet Kid Line in 1972 was also called "The Headache Line" for a couple of obvious reasons.
On paper this team is great, but will they play as a team which has been the Russians' downfall at other times? They've learned a lot since '72. Back then, Yakushev said there was only one thing they couldn't match with the Canadians, and that was the will to win. Ovechkin especially has passion, but only time will tell what this Russian club will look like.