Host country Russia are about to embark on something special, Hosting the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
The population of Russia is 143 Million (census taken nov’13) and you had best believe that eyes will be turning to one of their gold medal hopes, their men’s hockey team.
With a team full of NHL players (for the most part), none are more important than that of Alex Ovechkin and Captain of the team, Detroit Redwings player, Pavel Datsyuk. Both players will have all eyes on them as they are two of the most explosive and dynamic players in the game today. Alex Ovechkin, after a slow start to the season, is picking up the points at a fairly rapid pace. His 58 pts in 53 games leads the team. The only downfall with Ovechkin’s stats this season is his incredible -19 rating, worst on the team.
Pavel Datsyuk on the other hand has been riddled with injuries all throughout the month of January, he does however look to make his first start since the 21st of December against the Florida Panthers on February 7th, second last game before the Olympics. Before being injured he had accumulated 32pts in 35 games and a -2 rating.
The Russian team is not just made up of the aforementioned superstars. Evgeni Malkin is in his own right a superstar player for Pittsburgh in the NHL. The 6′ 3″ 195 pound center is on a hot streak leading into Sochi. 9 pts in 5 games is what superstars do when needed consistently. Ilya Kovalchuk is another player that opponents will need to look out for. He left the NHL in the offseason to return home to play hockey for St. Petersberg (KHL). People will still remember his tremendous shooting ability and slick skating skills. He amassed 816 pts in 816 games through his NHL career.
Alexander Semin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Artem Anisimov, Valeri Nichushkin, Nikolai Kulemin round out the NHL forwards list, all of which are playing well for their respective clubs.
The defensive core for Russia are led by pairs of Montreal Canadians and Columbus Blue Jacket players, Nikitin and Tyutin for Columbus, Emelin and veteran Markov from Montreal. Markov boasting 29 pts in 57 games, these stats coming from a “D” man, whom many had thought, is producing less towards the tail-end of his career.
Columbus stalwart Nikitin has 14 points in 49 games to go with his Russian counterpart Tyutin’s 24 points in 51 games.
Belov from the Edmonton Oilers and Voynov from the LA Kings round out the known NHL core. They will be joined by Nikulin and Medvedev from the KHL. The defense will need to step up in a group with Team USA, Slovakia and Slovenia in Group A.
The key to the cog will be how well goaltender Sergei Varlamov will play, he is having a break out year in Colorado. He will most likely be called upon as the starter to stand tall for the Red Machine. He has posted a 2.48 GAA, .924 sv% to go along with his 28 wins, 11 losses and 5 OT losses. Knocking on the door for the starting roll is Sergei Bobrovsky. His time could be described as a turbulent period in Philadelphia, yet he has turned his career around in Columbus and has found his footing. He has been injured during a period of this season but has still bounced back to post a 2.53 GAA, .917 sv%. His 20 wins, 13 losses and 2 OT losses are nothing to sneer at.
Whatever happens in these Olympic Games, you can be sure that the Russians will be out, on home soil no less, to avenge their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Canadians 7-3 at the last Olympic games in Vancouver. The questions remain however, do they have the upper hand being in their own country? Will their support base in Russia be a big factor in helping them win gold? We will find out soon enough.