Saturday, February 15, 2014

After shocking loss to Slovenia, Slovakia looks to rebound against Russia

Through two games in the men’s Olympic hockey competition, Slovakia, four years removed from a fourth-place finish in Vancouver, has suffered a pair of shocking losses.

It started with a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the U.S., and was followed up by an upset 3-1 loss to Slovenia on Saturday. Now, a date with a likely fired up Russian squad is on the docket for Slovakia on Sunday.

The criticism has grown, with goalie Jaroslav Halak questioning the age of the 2014 Slovak edition, and the depth the nation has in its hockey pool. But they’ll try to pull it together in the final preliminary game for them in the tournament, and heading into the elimination rounds.

But the loss to Slovenia, ranked 17th in the IIHF men’s hockey rankings, seems like it could be particularly difficult to get over.

We have to swallow this one,” Marian Hossa told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We know tomorrow is a really hard opponent, [so] get ready for tomorrow.

“After this disappointing loss, it’s going to be hard. It’s hard to lose a game like this. But there is still one more game in the group, and you never know.”

Report: No final score between U.S. and Russia shown on Bolshoy Ice Dome

From Patrick Johnston of’s Olympic coverage (read the full version here):

One of the cool features of the Bolshoy Ice Dome, main rink for the hockey competitions in Sochi, is its post-game score update.

The whole building is an LED screen, which has been used to show the final score in whichever game has just been completed.

Except, it seems, when Russia loses in a shooutout to the USA:

It would seem the shootout defeat to the Americans stung for the Russians, and that nation’s hockey team, which is under enormous pressure at these Olympics.

T.J. Oshie played the hero, with four goals in the deciding skills competition, etching his name into Olympic lore for the U.S. hockey team and gaining a wealth of rapid reaction from around the hockey world.

If you haven’t seen it, here is the shootout from Saturday’s preliminary game between the two powerful hockey nations.

Jonas Hiller giving Switzerland ‘a chance to win every game’

Switzerland’s men’s hockey team has benefited from the stellar play of goaltender Jonas Hiller, who has posted back-to-back shutouts in the tournament.

The media has harped on the tricky goaltending decisions other countries have had to face (Finland with Kari Lehtonen and Tuukka Rask ; Canada with Roberto Luongo and Carey Price; and the U.S. with Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller for example). Yet there seems to be no such controversy with the Swiss. Hiller’s play in two of the three games has probably muted that to some degree.

That’s not to take anything away from Reto Berra, who allowed only one goal in a 1-0 loss to Sweden in Switzerland’s second preliminary game.

Switzerland hasn’t scored much in the preliminary round, just two goals in three games. The latest came Saturday, when Switzerland defeated the Czech Republic by a score of 1-0. They’ve been involved in shutouts in each of their three games (they’ve all been by scores of 1-0, too). Goaltending has been a big key to their success. The positive results have given Switzerland a different mentality on the international stage – they expect to win.

“Jonas is giving us a chance to win every game,” said Simon Bodenmann, as per the IIHF . “We’d be happy to score a couple more goals, but if we win like this, it doesn’t matter.”

Swiss players know they’re not flying under the radar anymore

Switzerland used to be the team in the Olympic hockey tournament that would put in a good effort but come up short in the end.

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, however, things have changed. In three games they’ve given up just one goal and scored twice. The Swiss came away with two wins in round-robin play and their 1-0 loss to Sweden was their lone blemish.

With Jonas Hiller and Reto Berra holding things down and the Swiss defense playing extra stingy, the players know they’re a team that can’t be looked past now. Nino Niederreiter and Mark Streit

Streit’s statement is a big one. In the past, the Swiss could feel proud of a well-played loss against powerful teams like Canada, Russia, or the United States. Now, the bar for success is that much higher and they’re gunning for a medal in hockey.

The Swiss came away with a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships after losing to Sweden 5-1 in the gold medal game. To get there they beat the United States in the semifinals.

The improvement has been steady and if they keep playing smothering defense with outstanding goaltending, they can earn their first medal since the 1948 Olympics.

Sweden beats Latvia 5-3, finishes group stage undefeated

It wasn’t the blowout that it looked like it should have been on paper. At the end of the day though, Sweden still earned a 5-3 victory to complete its sweep of Group C and secure no worse than a second seed in the playoffs.

Latvia played with a lot of tenacity and frequently challenged Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, but they also lacked discipline and that proved to be their downfall. Sweden’s first four goals were all scored with the man advantage. With several of the Swedes top forwards gone, they also relied on their depth to carry them through this contest as five different players found the back of the net for them.

That includes Jimmie Ericsson, a 33-year-old Swedish league forward playing on a team full of NHL talent. He ended up being the hero today though with the game-winning goal.

Latvian netminder Kristers Gudlevskis was charged with all five goals on 29 shots, but he was solid in spite of the scoresheet. The 21-year-old netminder serving in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s minor league system made some impressive saves in this contest even if the end result wasn’t pretty.

With this win, Sweden will wait for the conclusion of the Finland vs. Canada match on Sunday to find out where they will finish in the rankings. They are already guaranteed to advance to the Quarterfinals. However, with a goal differential of just plus-five, Sweden won’t be able to rank higher than the winner of the Canada-Finland game if either of them get three points. Therefore, Sweden needs to hope that the contest goes to overtime.

Meanwhile, Latvia lost all three of its matches, but with a goal differential of just minus-five, they have a good shot of finishing with the 10th seed, which is the highest among the last-place teams.

Stifling Swiss shut out Czechs, clinch second place in Group C

Jonas Hiller and Switzerland did it again.

The Anaheim goalie notched his second straight shutout of the Olympics on Saturday, stopping all 24 shots faced in a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. With the win, Switzerland clinched second place in Group C and emerged a dangerous opponent for the playoff round.

Hiller hasn’t surrendered a goal in 120 minutes of action and the Swiss have conceded just once in three games, during a 1-0 loss to Group C winners Sweden on Friday. We wrote about Switzerland’s stout defense/conservative approach prior to the tournament and the team has been exactly that, participating in three 1-0 games during the group phase (the Swiss beat Latvia on a goal with eight seconds left in the tourney opener.)

Simon Bondemann scored in the first period for Switzerland, just the country’s second goal of the Games, with Kevin Romy and Denis Hollenstein registering assists. The only other Swiss skaters to register points this tournament are Nashville forward Simon Moser — who scored the game-winner against Latvia — and Flyers defenseman Mark Streit, who assisted on Moser’s tally.

As for the Czechs, today’s loss caps off a disappointing group phase in which they only registered one win, against Latvia, and continued with curious decisions regarding player selection and ice time. Veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival didn’t play a single second against Switzerland, this after he played 19:16 against Sweden and 19:34 against Latvia in the first two games.

Poll> Does Miller Get A Shot?

February 15, 2014, 1:54 PM ET [61 Comments]



Quick question here as I am about to head back into a meeting with a key source. (rumor chart and blog update later on...)

USA/Russia. WOW.

This was a classic game and a gutsy game by so many players on Team USA. Guys like JVR, McDonaugh, Pavelski, Kane and of course TJ Oshie somehow willed this win like a Phoenix from the ashes...

But none of it happens without Jonathan Quick literally stealing one first with huge saves in the game, then by being alert and noting to the refs the net had been slightly moved after Russia had appeared to have scored the third goal and finally coming up huge in the shootout as well. Quick was all you could ask for.

But Team USA also has another star goalie in the wings who has earned a shot here. Ryan Miller has been amazing all year and deserving of a chance to compete for the top spot....but with the Americans now on an official "roll" the question out there is "Does Ryan Miller get a shot in the medal rounds?"

Should he?

What do you think?

Join the Discussion: » 61 Comments » Post New Comment

What they’re saying about T.J. Oshie

Before the Olympics, the United States’ T.J. Oshie was having the best season of his career with the Blues, but how many people knew the 27-year-old forward’s name outside of St. Louis? With his incredible shootout performance against Russia on Saturday, he’s become the talk of a nation.

We’ve filtered through all that to bring you a collection of what was being said in the aftermath of Oshie’s showing. It seems appropriate to start with how this changes things for him:

Suddenly Oshie became the talk of celebrities and even earned recognition from President Barack Obama:

Not to mention the praise of his peers and former NHL stars:

David Backes, who plays alongside Oshie with St. Louis and Team USA, was even more complimentary outside of the Twitter.

“I think you’re going to see T.J. Oshie become a household name after that display he put on. The kids’ll be out on the pond probably in Minnesota right now, throwing a 5-hole on the goalie three or four times in a row. He does a great job for us in St. Louis. That’s part of the reason he’s on this team, along with some of the other things you can’t put on the stat sheet,” Backes said, according to the Associated Press.

And finally, let’s close out with a few funny tweets:


Why the U.S. kept sending Oshie out on the shootout

Oshie the shootout hero as U.S. outduels Russia in instant Olympic classic

Russian coach suggests Radulov needs to be scratched

Russia features a top-heavy group of forwards and consequently a very intimidating top power-play unit that they need to be effective to win games. So it’s particularly telling that it was the United States that did better with the man advantage in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout victory.

Both of the American regulation goals were scored on the power play and both times they had Russian forward Alexander Radulov to thank for the opportunity. That’s a fact that Russia head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was particularly unhappy about.

Bilyaletdinov, speaking through a translator, singled out Radulov after the game and suggested that he should be scratched “among other things,” according to writer Dan Rosen.

It’s worth adding that Radulov did help Pavel Datsyuk net the game-tying goal by screening American goalie Jonathan Quick.

Radulov is no stranger to criticism though. When he attempted to return to the Nashville Predators in 2012 after an extended stay in the KHL, he came under fire for breaking curfew during the playoffs.

Despite recording seven points in nine NHL games and another six points in eight postseason contests, Nashville didn’t want to re-sign him in the summer of 2012 and he ended up heading back to the KHL.

Datsyuk nearly lifts Russia with vintage performance

SOCHI -- When Russia captain Pavel Datsyuk finished playing his first game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Slovenia on Thursday, he was asked how he felt.

The question was pertinent because Datsyuk had missed 14 games with the Detroit Red Wings because of a leg injury, and only returned in time to play the final two games before the NHL's break for the Olympics.

"I'm feeling good," Datsyuk said after the 5-2 win against Slovenia.

The problem was, he wasn't looking good.

He didn't look like Pavel Datsyuk.

Saturday, however, was a different story.

Datsyuk was flying all over the ice in a Group A matchup with the United States, the marquee game of the Olympic tournament's preliminary round, and scored both goals in regulation time before Russia lost in a shootout 3-2.

"Our fans helped a lot," Datsyuk said of the heavily partisan Bolshoy Ice Dome crowd of 11,678 that included Russian president Vladimir Putin. "They gave us lots of emotion and lots of energy. That helped me move.

"Helped us move all together."

Datsyuk tried his best to put the focus on the team, but the difference between his performance from one game to another was impossible to ignore. And that fact, more than the loss, was the most important thing to happen to the Russians on Saturday.

Pavel Datsyuk'S two goals alone were almost enough for Russia to overcome the United States on Saturday. (Photo: Getty Images)

The crowd that Datsyuk said fueled his level of energy and mobility was so inspirational, in part, because of Datsyuk.

In a scoreless game at 9:15 of the second period, he took a stretch pass from Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov to knife into the American zone, split the defense and scored with a quick shot that just missed the glove of U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick and tucked itself inside the far post.

It further electrified an already electric crowd.

Datsyuk's second goal of the game was Russia's first power play goal of the tournament, a shot from the top of the right circle that beat Quick between his legs at 12:44 of the third period that tied the game 2-2, once again giving a jolt to what had become a somewhat nervous crowd.

Datsyuk was denied by Quick when he was tabbed by Zinetula Bilyaletdinov in the first round of the shootout, but he scored when he was called upon again once it was still tied after three shooters. Datsyuk's influence could even be felt on a shootout goal by Ilya Kovalchuk, who lobbed one over Quick, a shot made famous by Datsyuk.

By the end, after T.J. Oshie and Quick combined to give the U.S. the win, Datsyuk had played 20:45, registered six shots on goal and won eight of his 14 faceoffs.

"It's one game," Datsyuk said. "We need to play at same level every time and we'll be OK. Keep going every game better and better."

Russia's ability to do just that rests heavily on Datsyuk's ability to play like he did Saturday, like he has for the majority of his 816-game NHL career.

"I'm OK," he said, before quickly correcting himself. "We, not me."

Except in this case the concepts of "we" and "me" are inextricably linked, because with Datsyuk looking healthy the Russians are as well.

Sochi Olympics produce an early instant classic

SOCHI -- Greatness can't be bequeathed. It must be taken.

Saturday afternoon at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, Russia and the United States played in a great hockey game in the 2014 Sochi Olympics; an instant classic.

The Americans emerged victorious, 3-2 in the shootout, but it took some high drama, sublime displays of skill, a bit of controversy, eight rounds of the shootout and a career-defining performance from American forward T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues before greatness was finally earned and rightfully granted.

Nobody that played in the game will ever forget it; none will be the same after it.

"It was awesome," said American forward Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks. "Whatever type of game you want to explain it as, it was that."

It matters not that the Americans won nothing with the victory other than an extra point in the Group A standings and a bit of pride. The U.S. team could still lose the group with a stinker against a scrappy Slovenia team Sunday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) and the hurdles in the knockout stage are almost too difficult to navigate.

The Americans beat host Canada four years ago in Vancouver in preliminary play. It was a statement game; an instant classic. A week later, the Americans were wearing silver instead of gold because Canada won the game that truly mattered.

The implications of this game will be left for history to debate. On Saturday, as another perfect day at the base of the Caucasus Mountains was punctuated by the sun being extinguished by the Black Sea just outside the Bolshoy arena, these two fierce hockey rivals captivated the eyes focused on the Olympics and wouldn't let go.

Heading into Sochi, this Group A showdown between the United States and Russia was billed as a great game, the host nation playing the biggest villain from its glorious hockey past in one of the crown-jewel buildings of the Olympic complex.

It was to be the Miracle on Ice in reverse. The Americans were sending their hot-shot team -- the defending Olympic silver medalist -- to Russia to face a host team eager to prove its merits after an embarrassing showing in Vancouver in 2010.

Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary Russian goaltender who played a central figure in the 1980 passion play in the mountains of New York, took center stage at a press conference earlier this week, banging the drum for the Russian team. The American players from that magical sporting moment were interviewed and quoted repeatedly in the run-up to this game by journalists eager to paint this prelim game as a rematch of the Miracle on Ice; a rematch on par with the "Thrilla in Manila," the third and final fight between rivals Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

Only these players weren't buying what was being sold for catchy headlines. For them, history was just that, history. They were ready to write their own narrative.

They did, authoring a hockey tale with enough plot twists to satisfy the harshest critic.

The Russians scored first, off the brilliance of Pavel Datsyuk, playing on a bad leg. Cam Fowler, perhaps the last defenseman selected for this team, tied it for the Americans. The United States forged ahead on a goal by Pavelski, made possible by a brilliant pass from Patrick Kane. Russia answered, again through Datsyuk, as the teams traded punches in the third period.

Then, the Russians appeared to land the knockout blow in the form of a Fedor Tyutin slap shot that rose over the shoulder of goaltender Jonathan Quick and clanged off the bar in the back of the net. Only the net was just perceptibly off its moorings, knocked loose earlier in the sequence by Quick's leg pad.

Slava Voynov, a teammate of Quick's with the Los Angeles Kings but an opponent Saturday, suggested Quick may have intentionally unmoored the net, adding a little international intrigue to the proceedings.

The Chicago Blackhawks' Kane, perhaps the most talented natural scorer on the American team, twice had the game on his stick after the disallowed goal, but could not convert either time.

The five minute four-on-four overtime finished in a blur, allowing a much-need exhale. After 65 minutes of unequalled artistry interspersed with spellbinding savagery, the contest moved to the shootout, a tiebreaker decried by its critics as a skills competition.

Nobody, however, was decrying the skills displayed in this memorable shootout. The Detroit Red Wings' Datsyuk was at his absolute Datsyukian best. Former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk scored a shootout goal seemingly filled with impudence as he casually flipped the puck past Quick.

"I don't know how you do that," American forward David Backes said of the Kovalchuk goal, which he termed a fade-away flipper, "but I might practice that on Monday."

It was Backes' teammate, and road roommate, with the Blues who had the final say though, scoring his fourth shootout goal of the night, on his sixth attempt, to secure the victory.

He zigged one way, zagged the other, slowly; the puck on his stick almost hypnotically as he cruised toward Sergei Bobrovsky, the Russian goalie. Then, as soon as he saw an opening, he snapped his wrists violently, propelling the puck through the small opening between the goalie's leg pads.

Game over.

Greatness granted.

Blues' Oshie a one-man show in U.S. shootout win

SOCHI -- Hockey so often embodies the essence of team sports, but the international game can provide the chance for an individual to take center stage.

T.J. Oshie is a very good hockey player, one of the best on a St. Louis Blues team among the elite in the NHL, but he faced a very personal challenge with hockey fans from around the world watching Saturday and has a larger profile in the sport than he did the day before because of it.

Oshie scored four times on six shots in a shootout for the United States to help his country defeat host Russia 3-2 at Bolshoy Ice Dome.

"It was amazing," Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said. "The two that he did miss he had the goalie beat on both of them. It was pretty amazing to watch. He's obviously very special in that area."

International rules for the shootout allowed Oshie's star turn. Coaches must pick three players to start the shootout, but for the fourth round and beyond any player can shoot. Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov chose to alternate between Detroit Red Wings sensation Pavel Datsyuk and former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

United States coach Dan Bylsma kept tabbing Oshie, and he intended to keep sending him out against Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky until there was a winner. Oshie scored more times in the shootout in an Olympic game than anyone ever has.

David Poile, the general manager and architect of the U.S. squad, said the day the team was announced -- Jan. 1 at the Bridgestone 2014 NHL Winter Classic in Michigan Stadium -- that Oshie's shootout prowess was one of the deciding factors for including him on the roster.

There are a few American forwards with better offensive statistics or higher profiles in the NHL who were left off this team, but Oshie's inclusion looks like a great decision now.

"Yeah, it's something you practice at the end of practice all the time, just kind of messing around," said Oshie, who noted he had watched video of the Columbus Blue Jackets' Bobrovsky performing in shootouts before the game but did not know Bylsma was going to keep picking him. "I had to go back and maybe think of some different moves that I can do and maybe go back to some that I already did. It was a fun end."

Oshie is one of the best in the NHL at the shootout when he plays for the Blues. He is tied for the League lead with seven shootout goals this season, and has converted 70 percent of his attempts.

For his career, Oshie is 25 of 46 in the one-on-one competition. His 54.5 percent success rate is second among active NHL players with at least 10 career attempts behind Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders.

"T.J. has been exceptional on the shootout this year and in his career," Bylsma said. "By far, the best number on our team history-wise and this year in particular. Once we got to the fourth shooter, and just the quality moves he had, even with the misses he had, we were going to ride him out.

"We had other guys that are capable, but T.J. was the guy who was going well. … It seemed like he was going to score every time he went."

Oshie combined with Datsyuk and Kovalchuk to put on a skills clinic. The Blues forward approached Bobrovsky very slowly with each attempt. His first approach looked incredibly slow, but he was able to surprise Bobrovsky with a quick shot.

After James van Riemsdyk and Joe Pavelski were both stopped, it was time for Oshie to take over. He made a great move on his second attempt, faking a backhand shot before coming back to his forehand but he airmailed the shot over the crossbar.

He continued to move in slowly, snapping a shot off the inside of the top of the net that "popped the water bottle" on his third try in round five. Oshie went high again to score on his fourth shot, countering a beautiful flip goal by Kovalchuk to keep the shootout going after six rounds.

Oshie's second miss, in the seventh round, was also a great move. He went to his backhand, but Bobrovsky made an incredible stick save. After United States goaltender Jonathan Quick made a save in the eighth round, Oshie went back to where he started, beating Bobrovsky through his legs to earn the Americans a dramatic victory and put them in position to win Group A and claim a bye into the quarterfinals if they defeat Slovenia on Sunday (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN).

"I never realized he had that in his repertoire," United States defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "[I am] from New York and not playing the Blues that much, it was incredible to see how he stepped up and continued to be poised and do what he needed to do there. It was fun to watch from the bench.

"I'm sitting next to [Kevin Shattenkirk], his teammate and I said, 'Well, what's he going to do now?' He's like, 'He's still got this one left and that one left.' I was just thinking, 'Oh my god.' It's great to have that guy on your team, for sure."

The international stage has a way of increasing the visibility of American hockey players. Players like Mark Johnson and Mike Eurizone are household names beyond just sports fans because of their exploits at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Ryan Miller and Zach Parise found a reduced version of that Olympic fame four years ago when the Americans surprised as silver medalists, with Miller earning tournament MVP honors and Parise scoring a memorable goal to force overtime in the gold medal game.

Oshie is probably going to find out what that's like in the coming weeks and months. Succeeding at the Olympics earns recognition beyond the sports world, let alone the hockey community.

There was no triple deke in Oshie's bag of tricks Saturday, but he does bear a bit of a resemblance to a young Charlie Conway, the character who scored the winning goal in the movie "The Mighty Ducks." That's not going to hurt Oshie, either.

"That rule lends for a lot of excitement. [By shooter] No. 8, they might have started to look to somebody like me in a situation like that [in the NHL]," said David Backes, who captains the Blues. "And I tell you what, it wouldn't have been that pretty. You get to see the full gamut of the guy's moves. Datsyuk, Kovalchuk same thing. Kovalchuk rips the one high glove and then all of a sudden he does that little fadeaway flipper shot. I don't know how you do that, but I might practice that on Monday.

"It's just one of those things where it's fantastic to watch for the fans. It was great to be on the bench and to have not only a guy I play with here but play with in St. Louis, he's my roommate here, there's a lot of history with him. To have some great success like that, I couldn't be happier for him."

Is Slovakia on the decline as a hockey nation?

Four years ago, the Slovaks were the Cinderella Story. They beat Russia and Sweden en route to a fourth place finish in the Olympics.

And yet, as surprising as that was, it didn’t come out of nowhere. They were a team with quite a few talented NHL players leading the charge. To compare them to the nation they just suffered a 3-1 loss to, Slovenia, which has only one NHLer in Anze Kopitar, would be inaccurate.

Slovakia wasn’t a hockey powerhouse, but they weren’t far from it either. Times have changed though. It’s true that the Slovaks were dealt a bad hand when they lost Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky to injuries, but their problems extend beyond that.

“We had different players (in the 2010 Olympics),” Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak said, per the Olympic News Service. “We were younger. Everybody’s four years older right now and the time is catching up with everybody.

“If you look at the roster four years ago we had really good hockey players that were in their prime. It is hard to replace them.”

And that lies at the heart of Slovakia’s problems. Its best are aging and a new generation hasn’t been able to take their place yet. There are just four Slovak players in the NHL that are 26 or younger. Of them, only Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar has played in more than 40 contests this season.

Back in 2005, eight players from Slovakia were drafted and it was 10 in each of the 2003 and 2004 NHL Entry Drafts. By comparison, only 21 Slovak players have been selected by NHL teams from 2006-2013.

“We have no one young coming up, but we have to play with what we have,” Halak admitted.

Until that changes, Slovakia will have a hard time living up to its past success.

It’s Go Time! … USA vs. Russia (7:30 a.m., NBCSN)

Game 2 for the Americans (and for the hosts).

Team USA sticks with Jonathan Quick in goal.

You know by now that Canada won big yesterday and that King Henrik pitched a shutout win for Sweden.

Click here for the preliminary-round standings, courtesy of

Click here for individual leaders.

And here, also from, is today’s schedule:

All Times Eastern

Slovakia vs. Slovenia, 3:00 a.m., NBCSN, Sportsnet

USA vs. Russia, 7:30 a.m., NBCSN, CBC

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic, 12:00 p.m., NBCSN, TSN

Sweden vs. Latvia, 12:00 p.m. USA Network, Sportsnet 1


Apologies to those who sent in guest posts. Had significant issues with my email account the last two days and was unable to access those posts. So I will put them up starting Monday, on non-USA game days. Sorry, and thank you.

Photo by Getty Images.

Rick Carpiniello, 26, was born and raised in Harrison and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002.

Kopitar: Slovenians will remember this win long after we’re retired

Anze Kopitar already had a pretty impressive resume. He was the first Slovenian player in the NHL, has been named to two All-Star teams, and has won the Stanley Cup, but today’s 3-1 win against Slovakia could be one of the things he’s most known for in his home country long after his career is over.

It might not seem like a big deal compared to his other feats, but for a nation of a little more than two million people to come away with a win in its first ever trip to the Olympics, this is a special moment.

“It’s going to stick with us for a long long time and probably stick with Slovenian hockey long after we’re done playing,” Kopitar said, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott.

We got our first indication that something like this could happen when Slovenia held its own at times against Russia. While that was largely looked at in the context of what it said about the Russian squad, Slovenia has shown that it’s capable of more than what many would assume.

Perhaps it helps that, unlike Russia, which has the weight of a nation on its shoulders, or Slovakia, which was trying to live up to its impressive fourth place finish in 2010, Slovenia entered these games with rock bottom expectations.

“I don’t think the guys were nervous, not against Russia, not against Slovakia today, because we don’t have anything to lose,” said 34-year-old forward Tomaz Razingar, per Olympic News Service.

He was playing in Sweden’s second-tier hockey league before the Olympics. He scored the opening goal against Jaroslav Halak.

“It’s kind of a miracle, but we know inside the locker room that we have good hockey players who can play at the top level,” said 30-year-old goaltender Robert Kristan.

He plays hockey in the Slovak league and today turned aside 27 of 28 shots, including four from Marian Hossa.

Slovenia’s next game is against the United States and it’s likely that this win will be the highlight of the tournament for Slovenia. Even still, if nothing else, Kopitar is hoping at least one thing comes from all of this.

“I hope now they’re not going to mix us up with Slovakia anymore,” he said.

Analysis: Lineup decisions big storyline for Canada

SOCHI -- Canada’s game Sunday against Finland to close out Group B play (noon ET, USA, CBC) is really of little importance, in the grand scheme of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Both teams will live to play again, and really the only thing on the line is which one will get a guaranteed bye into the quarterfinals. But the loser Sunday could still wind up in the quarters by being the best second-place finisher in the tournament, so even the bye is not that big of a prize.

No, the game is important for one main reason for Canada: It will provide a glimpse into what coach Mike Babcock and his staff are thinking as the team moves into the knockout phase of the tournament.

Babcock refused to announce Saturday who his starting goaltender will be against Finland and which two players will be scratched among the skaters. While he insisted the decisions made in both cases are not guaranteed to last past the game Sunday, it is fair to assume they will, especially if Canada wins handily.

So these decisions matter and people across Canada will likely spend every minute between now and the game Sunday debating the merits of every decision Babcock has on his plate.

While that will be raging more than 5,000 miles away, Babcock says he and his staff will be totally isolated from it here. So the potential drawback of creating a distraction by not announcing his lineup or his goalie Saturday is a non-factor, as far as Babcock’s concerned.

“In 1997 I was coaching Canada at the World Juniors [in Switzerland] and I was a young coach just getting started in my career,” Babcock said Saturday. “I didn’t know how bad I was getting beat up back in Canada as a coach and I don’t know if I would have been able to handle it.

“Now I’d be ready to handle it, but I don’t look and I don’t care.”

All Babcock cares about now as his players enjoyed a day off Saturday is putting together the best possible team to allow Canada to repeat as Olympic champions.

The biggest decision Babcock and his staff face will be who to hand the starting goaltending job to, and it appears to come down to a debate that is not unlike what we see in the NHL.

Should they go with Roberto Luongo, who won gold on the international stage for Babcock at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and also at the 2004 IIHF World Championship?

Coaches generally have a certain level of comfort with a goalie that’s gotten it done for him in the past, and Luongo has certainly done that for Babcock.

“I’ve been with him twice when he’s won gold medals, in ’04 at the World Championships and 2010,” Babcock said Tuesday, after Canada’s second practice here. “To me he’s a really good goaltender. Winning, to me, leads to winning. I think when you get a certain amount of confidence, it’s a positive.”

On the other hand, if you shorten the sample size to this NHL season Carey Price has been the better goalie, posting better numbers across the board and coming in to the tournament as one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL with a .967 save percentage in his past six starts for the Montreal Canadiens prior to the Olympic break.

Then there’s another somewhat strange factor at play here in which Luongo’s experience in these events may actually hurt him. Luongo was not initially the No. 1 guy in Vancouver four years ago, but he came off the bench and led Canada to gold. Babcock knows Luongo can handle that situation from a mental standpoint, yet he doesn’t know that when it comes to Price.

That inexperience, ironically, might actually benefit Price in this situation.

Whichever way Babcock chooses to go, he doesn’t see the Finland game as the final determining game for what happens in the medal round.

“I’ve had lots of time, so we as a management team and a coaching staff, we watched the NHL all year and so then we picked the two goalies that we think have got an opportunity,” Babcock said Saturday. “We had a plan. We understand, and I said this a number of times, you get one [goalie] change in this tournament and you can still win.”

When it comes to the decisions among the skaters, it’s much more complicated.

On defense, Babcock has already announced Dan Hamhuis will draw back in the lineup against Finland, and it’s very likely P.K. Subban will be out.

Subban’s biggest problem actually has very little to do with him aside from the way he shoots.

As a right-handed shot, Subban was taking shifts away from Shea Weber and Drew Doughty when he played his first game Friday. Weber and Doughty have two goals apiece in two games and have been among Canada’s best players in the tournament. The more time they spend on the bench, the worse it is for Canada in Babcock’s eyes.

Hamhuis, however, as a left-handed shot can rotate in with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jay Bouwmeester on the left side, two players Babcock probably can live with missing a few shifts here and there.

One of the many factors Babcock said Saturday goes into his decision on the lineup is “how we get the best people on the ice.” If Babcock absolutely wants to maintain the righty-lefty balance, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, Hamhuis allows him to do that.

Subban doesn’t.

Another factor Babcock mentioned was how the player integrates on special teams. In the game Friday, Babcock scratched Patrick Sharp -- a forward who plays the point on the power play -- to make room for Subban to play there next to Duncan Keith. Again, that is taking a valuable forward out of the lineup for Subban.

Hamhuis, meanwhile, plays on the penalty kill with Vlasic, a pairing that has remained stable ever since Canada arrived in Sochi and one that requires no other lineup moves in order to work.

“Lots goes into it,” Babcock said. “On the back end, who are the best pairs, who’s playing together, who’s going to be on the power play and on the penalty kill; who’s playing the best down the middle, who can support that person, who’s playing better than we thought, who’s not quite as good as we thought. All those things go into play.”

Up front, that last point Babcock made is probably the most important, the one about which players are living up to expectations and which aren’t.

Canada came to Sochi with three pairs of forwards who play together in the NHL: Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins; Jonathan Toews and Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks; and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks.

Matt Duchene is the player on the bubble here. He didn’t play against Norway on Thursday but played well against Austria with Getzlaf and Perry.

If the pairs of forwards remain intact it leaves very little wiggle room to make other changes, but this is also an area where Babcock and his staff will most likely stick with the “work in progress” mantra that’s been repeated every day Canada has been here.

Babcock said Saturday how he’s been pleasantly surprised with Jamie Benn and how good of a start Patrice Bergeron is off to in the tournament. That makes up two-thirds of Babcock’s so-called fourth line, with John Tavares at center. It was Canada’s best line in its opening game Thursday against Norway.

The best line Friday was Toews with Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter, who had a natural hat trick in the second period and finished the game a plus-5.

“So [lines] one and two are due,” Babcock said.

If line one doesn’t start to produce, Crosby’s line, then Babcock may have to consider the possibility of splitting him from Kunitz. That would open a door for Duchene to get in the lineup at some point because if Kunitz isn’t playing with Crosby, it’s hard to justify putting him in the lineup. The pre-existing chemistry between the two was supposed to be an asset, but it’s one that hasn’t manifested itself in points.

“From a purely statistical point of view you’d say no,” Babcock said. “From the way they played I think so. I think they do a lot of good things together. But we’re talking about one line.

“I’m not worried about one line. I’m worried about all the lines.”

So is his country.

Kopitar, Slovenia upset Slovakia for nation’s first Olympic men’s hockey win

So much for Slovenia’s men’s hockey team just being happy to participate in its first Olympics.

Anze Kopitar & Co. surprised Slovakia 3-1 on Saturday, giving Slovenia its first-ever win at this level.

The most stunning part – and most worrisome for Slovak hockey – is that this wasn’t really some miracle goaltending performance. Slovenia actually fired more shots on goal (31-28) in the game and Slovakia never held a lead, as they merely avoided being shut out with a 3-1 goal late in the third period.

Rok Ticar scored the first goal, Tomaz Razingar got the game-winner and Anze Kopitar iced it with a 3-0 tally. Slovenia scored those three goals in a dizzying span that lasted about six minutes of game time. It’s the kind of game that may haunt more than a few Slovak hockey players, including Jaroslav Halak, who allowed three goals on 31 shots.

Slovenia’s team already came in on a relatively positive note in “only” losing to Russia 5-2, but now the country has a win that could very well make a difference in helping to boost the sport in a fledgling area.

Slovakia, meanwhile, has some soul-searching to do. Between this loss and the drubbing they received from the U.S., Zdeno Chara‘s team has been dominated 10-2 in two defeats. While they will still get a chance to turn things around, this a disturbing start for a team some pegged to be a dark horse candidate.

For Slovenia, it’s a game many will never forget as they ready themselves for the U.S. tomorrow. Slovakia would like to do exactly the opposite – and fast – as they face Russia on Sunday.

Babcock thinks Crosby and Kunitz ‘do a lot of good things together’

SOCHI, Russia — “Do you plan to leave [Chris Kunitz] with [Sidney Crosby]?”

That was the question for Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, and here was his response:

“Well, I’ve got lots of plans, but the day’s young and I haven’t been to curling yet, I haven’t been to the Russian game. We’ll see what happens. We’ve been over and over and over. To me, we want to have the best team. So the stats on any one player don’t matter. And I don’t think they matter that much to the player.”

OK, but how has he liked his top line, which so far has featured the two Pittsburgh teammates, one of whom was already a controversial inclusion on the roster?

“The first line in the last two games has generated a ton of scoring chances. Point-blankers. They haven’t gone in. So, do we worry that much about that, or do we just know good players score in the end? Lots of time in the Stanley Cup playoffs…your best players have no points in the first round. Someone else picks them up. By the time it’s all over, they’re leading the thing in scoring.”

OK, but has he seen the benefit of Crosby and Kunitz being teammates prior to coming to the Olympics?

“Well, I guess from a purely statistical point of view, you’d say no. From the way they’ve played, I think so. I think they do a lot of good things together. But we’re talking about one line; I’m not worried about one line; I’m worried about all the lines. So, to steal from one to make another…one’s going really good and you’re going to wreck that to make…we’ll see what happens.”

After two wins versus Norway and Austria, by a combined score of 9-1, Crosby has one assist (on Jeff Carter‘s goal versus Austria, from passing it to Patrick Marleau, who hit the post before Carter banged it in) and four shots, while Kunitz has no points and three shots.

It’s a small sample size, just two games versus tournament minnows, but as Babcock conceded, statistically the pair hasn’t been successful. And eventually, it becomes about the results.

“I think the chemistry in every single period, every single day we are together, is growing, and guys are starting to feel comfortable together,” Kunitz said after the Austria game, per the Olympic News Service.

“You have to make sure you go out and do the right things every shift and great things will come. It’s one of those things that it is all about the team.”

What will Babcock do tomorrow versus Finland? Tough question; he wasn’t showing his hand much today, despite the probing from reporters. But if Crosby and Kunitz don’t show improvement as a duo, Babcock will have yet another tough decision to make.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Finland’s Ruutu would like to go 11-for-11 with international medals

Finland forward Tuomo Ruutu came into the 2014 Sochi Olympics with quite the track record when it came to international play.

In the 10 tournaments he’s played in including the Olympics, World Championships, and World Junior Championships, he’s been on 10 teams that have won a medal. That includes a bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and a gold at the 2011 Worlds.

As Michael Smith at the Carolina Hurricanes site shares, Ruutu says familiarity helps the Finns on the world stage.

“It’s one of the strengths of Team Finland that most of the guys know each other well, and they’ve played with each other before,” Ruutu said. “We’re really good friends and really tight,” Ruutu said. “A lot of times it feels like, even though you haven’t seen guys for a couple of years, when you see them on the first day, you feel like you saw them yesterday and nothing has changed.”

So far things are going great for Finland after scoring in bunches in victories against Austria and Norway. We’ll see how much that camaraderie pays off for them on Sunday when they face Canada to see who finishes on top of their group.

Tallon not itching to sell, eager to bring Thomas back next season

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is a guy who is never afraid to make a deal, but he may not be so eager to do that at the trade deadline this season.

George Richards of the Miami Herald heard from Tallon about a host of topics concerning the 15th place team in the Eastern Conference.

Tallon said he’s not ready to sell at the March 5 deadline just yet despite the team being 13 points back of the final wild card spot for the postseason. He said players like Brad Boyes, Tim Thomas, Jesse Winchester, and Tom Gilbert (who are all due to be free agents this summer) could come back next season. All of them would be attractive to teams looking to add a piece for a playoff run, however.

Speaking of Thomas, Tallon says the two have discussed him sticking around for another year. Tallon added emphatically that Thomas “absolutely” has a place there past this season. Both he and Scott Clemmensen are due to become free agents this summer and prospect Jacob Markstrom is biding his time in the minors.

Tallon says he would like to speak with soon-to-be restricted free agent defenseman Dmitry Kulikov about an extension but talks haven’t begun. He hopes to reach out to his agent soon to get things going there.

Tretiak wants Canada-Russia gold medal game

When it comes to Russian hockey, few people are respected more than former national team goalie Vladislav Tretiak.

So when Tretiak says who he’d like to see in the gold medal game, people are going to pay attention. As Neil Davidson at The Canadian Press shares, he’s got one marquee match-up he wants to see.

“I want Canada-Russia to play in Sochi final. It’s very important. I’m ready. I don’t know, is Canada ready?” the former star goalie, speaking in English, said with a laugh.

Tretiak has already been a star at the Sochi Olympics as he helped light the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony. In his career as a goalie, he won three gold medals for the Soviet Union in 1972, 1976, and 1984 and a silver in 1980. You might’ve heard a thing or two about what happened in the ’80 Games.

The last time Russia and Canada faced off for gold was 1992 when six republics of the former Soviet Union were known as the Unified Team. A meeting between the two countries this time around would have a revenge aspect to it for Russia after they were humiliated out of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics by Canada 7-3.