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Kovalchuk, Russians face Slovakia

Puck drops Thurs., 11:55 p.m. ET

Thursday, 02.18.2010 / 10:40 AM ET / News
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Kovalchuk, Russians face Slovakia
RUSSIA (1-0-0-0) vs. SLOVAKIA (0-1-0-0)

NOTE: records are presented as three-point wins (regulation time), two-point wins (OT or shootout), one-point losses (OT or shootout), zero-point losses (regulation time).
 
What to watch -- Russia merely broke a sweat against Latvia in its Group B opener Tuesday. Slovakia on Wednesday night broke out in the traditional cold sweat that is standard whenever it faces its arch-rival, the Czech Republic.

Actually, the Slovaks probably were fully lathered long before ever beginning Olympic play, what with the scheduler and the injury gods conspiring against them. The only one of the traditional power countries to have to play three games in four nights in group play, Slovakia also drew into the most difficult of the three groups by virtue of their low IIHF seeding, owing to poor results over the last four years.

Under normal circumstances, Slovakia could be expected to give Russia all it could handle. But playing a second straight night against a formidable opponent, Slovakia will be accomplishing a great deal if it merely keeps this a game going into the third period.

Russia's speed and skill should be on display from the drop of the puck. A tired Slovak team will be scrambling to keep up with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Semin -- particularly because those NHL stars ought to be significantly sharper in their second Olympic game than their first.

Team Reports:
 
Russia -- Given the delicate task the Russians face in developing instant chemistry among so many highly-skilled, high-profile forwards, the Olympic schedule couldn't have been set up better if GM Vladislav Tretiak had planned it himself.

After a just-competitive-enough opener against Latvia, a former Soviet Socialist Republic that brings passion if not comparable ability, the Russians gradually climb the resistance scale. Slovakia will force the Russian forwards to at least consider back-checking and present the first real test for the club's supposed weakness -- its defense corps.

Russia will look to fine-tune its top two lines after a productive but spotty performance against Latvia. Russia also will turn their net over to Ilya Bryzgalov after Evgeni Nabokov's OK outing in the opener.

Nabokov was sharp through two periods, in which Latvia's chances were few, but there were a couple of good ones. He lost focus in the third, opening the door for Bryzgalov, who is having a brilliant season with Phoenix, to grab Russia's No. 1 job going into the medal round.

Slovakia -- Playing Russia under the best of circumstances is a daunting task. These are anything but the best of circumstances for the Slovakia.

Their top two forwards are banged up. Marian Hossa of the Detroit Red Wings, who suffered a concussion against Columbus last Saturday, and Marian Gaborik, the goal-scoring machine from the New York Rangers, both managed to play against the Czech Republic on Tuesday night. Gaborik scored his country's lone goal in a 3-1 loss, just one week after suffering a deep gash to his thigh during a Rangers practice.

Slovakia at least can make it hurt for the Russians to score their goals. Their big blue-line corps includes 6-foot-9, 255-pound Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and 6-4, 236-pound Milan Jurcina of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Total NHL players on the rosters: 27 -- 14 Russians and 13 Slovaks.

Puck Drop -- "I hope we're not going to face any surprises. That's why I'm a little cautious to say how we're going to do within our group. But I think the goal of any team is to win your group and play good hockey. So let's stick with the good hockey and solid play on the ice." -- Team Russia center Sergei Fedorov.

Prediction -- The proud Slovaks will keep this close as long as they can. But their age (their forwards are predominantly in their mid-30s) and the demands of playing on consecutive nights against top-tier opponents figures to wear on them. Russia blows it open late in a 7-3 victory.

-- John Dellapina

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
K. Palmieri 82 30 27 3 57
A. Henrique 80 30 20 10 50
T. Zajac 74 14 28 3 42
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
D. Severson 72 1 20 -8 21
R. Boucher 39 8 11 -13 19
D. Schlemko 67 6 13 -22 19
J. Moore 73 4 15 -12 19
A. Larsson 82 3 15 15 18
J. Blandisi 41 5 12 -14 17
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 27 25 6 .924 2.15
K. Kinkaid 9 9 1 .904 2.81
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