The Russia-Canada game tonight was awful. Russia got behind early, failed to gain any momentum, and didn't play well. Other than Bryzgalov, no one looked great.
The loss was disappointing, but not entirely surprising. I have been saying since the beginning of the Olympics that the Russians have looked disorganized on the ice, and that disorganization finally came back to haunt them. The team has appeared to be poorly-coached from their first game against Latvia. After the shootout loss to Slovakia, the Russian coach, Bykov, admitted that he hadn't had a plan in place for the shootout and randomly chose his shooters.
I can't fathom how the coach of a team in the Olympics can begin the tournament without a plan for the shootout. The game is three periods long, and if it is tied after those periods there is a five minute overtime. If it's still tied, it goes to a shootout. Thus, it would seem that having an idea of what you want to do when the shootout comes would be a good idea. The fact that Bykov was so unprepared in such a basic way did not bode well for Russia's chances.
Bykov's biggest mistake today was not pulling Nabokov earlier. Nabokov gave up four goals in the first period, a few of which were very weak. The team might not have been playing incredibly strong hockey, but the goalie really needs to stop the easy shots--and the hard ones--to keep his team in the game. Nabokov looked horrible. Rather than pull Nabokov after the first period (or earlier--many coaches would have pulled Nabokov after the third goal), Bykov put him back in. Soon after the start of the second period, the Canadians scored a fifth goal, but Bykov still
refused to pull Nabokov. This was particularly shocking because Bryzgalov looked strong in the game against Slovakia (despite the eventual loss), and I actually thought Bryzgalov should have been the starting goalie from the beginning of this tournament. It was only after the sixth goal, when the Russians had pretty much no chance of getting back into the game, that Bykov pulled Nabokov.
Not one Russian skater had a good game, but if I had to pick out the player with the worst game, I think it would be Malkin. Malkin had a great game against the Czech Republic after having two poor games against Latvia and Slovakia, so I was hopeful he would be able to create some offense. Instead he allowed for a turnover that directly lead to Boyle's breakaway goal, and lost the puck throughout the game.
Of course, the Mike Milburys of the world would prefer to blame Ovechkin because it's easy to point to the biggest star (and in Milbury's case, because he clearly dislikes Ovechkin). Mike Milbury is a total idiot. In his commentary after the game he said he was disappointed in Russia for playing a "Eurotrash game." The fact that Milbury, who adds no valuable insight in his commentary, has a job with NBC Sports is ridiculous. But NBC seems to like Milbury doing racist things like calling the Russian game Eurotrash--I guess they think that it creates press, and they don't have a problem with commentators continuing to espouse the view that the way the Canadians play the game is somehow "pure," while the Europeans have defiled it in some way. (In the past, the Europeans failed the play hockey properly because they weren't passionate, weren't physical, didn't finish their checks, and didn't really care about the outcome. Now that the biggest star in the league is a European who exuberantly celebrates goals, wants to win more than anything, and is not only the best scorer in the league, but also lays down some of the hugest hits, the complaints are that they celebrate too much, and they are too physical.)
Milbury also defended Boyle's slew-footing of Semin. He claimed that Semin deserved it (despite slew-footing being against the rules) because of Semin's "dangerous" check on Boyle. I looked at the check several times, and I don't think it was illegal. Even if we give Boyle the benefit of the doubt and say the check was illegal (that it was late or that it was high), it was at the very least a play that could have been ruled either way. To slew-foot in response is not an appropriate retaliation, but Milbury applauded Boyle's actions.
Of course, the idea that the worst general manager in the history of hockey--the man who traded away Roberto Luongo (who looked pretty great in goal for the Canadians), Zdeno Chara and Tim Connolly--is providing commentary on hockey is ridiculous. He completely decimated the Islanders in his ten year reign of terror. That CBC and NBC think he is worthy of talking to anyone about hockey is misguided at best.
The other hockey games of the day were far more interesting. Switzerland and the US were tied at 0 for the first 50 minutes of the game, the Czech Republic and Finland were tied at 0 for the first 50 minutes of the game, and Slovakia beat Sweden 4-3, with Sweden having a few big chances in the closing seconds of the game. I'm really shocked that Sweden lost, and the road to the gold medal just became much easier for Canada. I know a lot of USA fans are hoping for a Canada-USA rematch, but I don't see the US beating Canada twice in this series. Miller had to stand on his head for the first win, and repeating that will be difficult.
I always love seeing teammates shake hands at the end of the game, and Lunqvist and Gaborik didn't disappoint, really looking like friends when the game was over. Not so much for Crosby and Malkin, who just gave each other a cursory handshake, as if they were total strangers.
Today started with five Capitals in the Olympics, and ended with no Capitals left. The big positive: no more worries about Ovie, Semin, Backstrom or Fleishmann getting injured in a game (I wasn't worried about Varlamov, since he has been hanging out in the team's box with Tretiak). Another big plus: all five of those players get a full week to rest. There's still a lot of NHL hockey left, and the less worn out and tired they are, the better.