RUSSIANS SHOULD COPY SUCCESS IN SALT LAKE CITY
Russia heads to Turin hoping to build off of their Bronze medal performance in Salt Lake City in 2002. The Russians have a fair bit of experience coming into this tournament, including eleven returning players from their Bronze medal squad. That being said there are some questions heading into this tournament. Many of them centre around whether or not the more experience Russian players will be apt to the challenges of the larger ice surface. Will Alexei Zhitnik or Darius Kasparaitis be able to keep up with quick skating opposition forwards and react in time to a spread out transition game? There are also concerns about Sergei Gonchar’s play in his own end this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Anton Volchenkov, and Andrei and Danny Markov rounding out the top six the Russians do possess a good mix of size, grit, and finesse on the blueline. However, it remains to be seen if this blueline will be able to work as a cohesive unit in its own end of the ice, even though most have been playing in the plus this season.
In the net the Russians have a formidable top two in Nikolai Khabibulin of Chicago and San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov. Both have proven themselves as number ones in the NHL and both make a good case for being the starter in Turin. Nabokov is having a slightly more successful season with the Sharks but both goaltenders are below .500 in wins and have save percentages below .900%. Given Khabibulin’s Cup run with the Lightning and his experience backstopping Russia to Bronze in 2002, he is likely to be given the nod. Even though he has struggled this season most of the blame can be placed on the Chicago defence in front of him. Expect Khabibulin to be a factor in Russia’s success.
On forward speed and skill dominate the Russian line-up. With dynamic youngsters like Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, mixed with the sorts of Alexei Yashin, Alexei Kovalev, and Pavel Datsyuk, the Russians will be a constant scoring threat. The experience of Russian Super League players Kharitonov and Sushinsky, along with the junior eligible Evgeni Malkin could be a factor. Although Malkin did prove some of his worth at this year’s World Junior Championships in Vancouver winning the Top Forward award. Kharitonov and Sushinsky may be centred by Alexei Zhamnov on the fourth line, which may not see much ice time considering Zhamnov’s very poor showing in Boston this year, and the firepower in front of them. The Russians can be expected to do very well in this tournament, they are striving for the Gold and there is little evidence to suggest they won’t medal. Expect to see the Russians take home the Bronze.