Yesterday’s Team Russia vs. Team Slovenia game featured four Blue Jackets that laced up the skates for the home country. Russia ended up winning the game 5-2, a score that looks more lopsided than the game actually was. Slovenia was valiant and Russia seemed to lack cohesiveness. Enough Slovenia slip ups gave the highly-skilled Russian forwards all they would need to pot five goals and seal the deal.
But how did the Blue Jackets players fare? Below are grades for each Jacket that brought a little of Columbus to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi:
Artem Anisimov (B): Centering the third line only garnered Anisimov 12:46 TOI, but he looked solid while out there. His line mitigated Slovenia’s attempts to generate offense and shots, and it seemed like when his crew was on the ice, the puck was in Russia’s offensive end. At one point, he got the puck on the side of the net and curled around behind the cage where he would have been better served taking the puck right back into the crease, creating some chaos and potentially leading to a goal. He did throw a pretty pass back into the slot that created a quality scoring chance. Given what his role is, Anisimov earns a solid grade for properly utilizing his skill set.
Sergei Bobrovsky (DNP): Hard to grade a player when his sole job was to keep the bench warm. How much should be made of Colorado Avalanche‘s goaltender Semyon Varlamov is still very much a huge unknown. Who Russia truly trusts most between the pipes won’t be revealed until we see who gets the nod in tomorrow’s Team USA vs. Team Russia game.
Nikita Nikitin (D-): The host nation has a wealth of talent in the forward and goaltending positions. It’s the blue line that could cause Russia’s gold medal aspirations to come crashing down. Nikitin, sadly, gave a lot of credence to this assessment. He, at times, looked overwhelmed in his Olympic debut. His head seemed to be spinning in his own zone, often being late in marking a man or obstructing a passing lane. The second Slovenia goal was 100 percent on Nikitin; he got caught flatfooted and gave Ziga Jeglic a clear path to the net and a relatively easy goal. Unforgivable. Nikitin did get an assist on the Anton Belov goal, but that doesn’t absolve him of his sins. He’ll need to channel more of the consistency he’s found this season for his NHL club if he doesn’t want his third line to be the weak link.
Fedor Tyutin (B-): The 30-year-old veteran played a pretty no thrills game and was often unnoticeable — which is never a bad thing when you’re a defenseman. He seemed sound and poised in his own end, but his greatest contribution may have come in Russia’s offensive zone. Not only did he do a good job keeping the puck on the right side of the blue line, he never hesitated to throw the puck towards the net. They weren’t great shots from ideal angles, nor where they bad shots by any means either. After Russia went up 2-0, Moscow’s finest started to get too cute for their own good, making too many passes and not taking enough shots. It was almost as if Tyutin was saying, “Comrades, those ugly, rebound goals look exactly the same on the scoreboard,” and acted accordingly with his play.
Slovenia is essentially the whipping boys of Group A, yet they gave Russia fits for much of the first 40 minutes. Russia and their Blue Jackets players need to elevate their game if they’re to stand a chance against an America squad that, much like the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, came flying out the gate playing with a cohesive identity and fearlessness. Maybe it was just nerves for Russia, but they better conquer them quick if they want to beat the Stars and Stripes and win Group A.
It’s an intriguing, consequential match up that could easily prove to be a preview of the gold medal game.