Varlamov, Bobrovsky battling for Russia's starting job

Varlamov, Bobrovsky battling for Russia's starting job
February 16, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as Team USA and Team Russia await their next opponents following their Sunday victories over Slovenia and Slovakia, respectively.

Classic hangover: Following their emotional game 24 hours earlier, the Americans did a better job of turning the page and ramping themselves up for Sunday’s contest against Slovenia. Phil Kessel got the Americans out to an early 2-0 lead and after some sleepy play the U.S. got back on track in the second period to double that lead. The Russians, on the other hand, had trouble with Slovakian netminder Jan Laco, who made 36 saves before Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk beat him in the shootout with backhanders.

Power-less Russians: Team Russia went 0-for-5 on the man-advantage against the Slovaks and seemed to be all over the map with their setups. Alex Ovechkin [6 shots in 24:27 of ice time] rotated between the left point and the top of the left circle, but he rarely was given enough room to crank his patented one-timer. On one power play in the third period, Evgeni Malkin briefly left the offensive zone and roamed all over the ice looking for a pass that never came. Aside from occasional appearances by Radulov, the Russians lack a real net presence on their power play and that will need to change if they hope to advance into the medal round.

So close: Ovechkin rifled six shots on goal against Slovakia but the chance he had in overtime was his best of the game. Ovechkin used a burst of speed to get a shot on Laco and followed up his own rebound. With a wide open net in his sights, Ovechkin’s wrist shot was blocked by defenseman Andrej Meszaros [Flyers] to keep the game scoreless. Ovechkin also raced back to make a nice defensive play in overtime.

Watch highlights of Russia's win over Slovakia (VIDEO)

Who’s in goal for Russia?: So if you’re coaching Team Russia, who do you play in goal when the Russians face elimination? Sergei Bobrovksy, who stopped 31 shots in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Americans, or former Caps netminder Semyon Varlamov, who turned aside all 27 shots he faced on Sunday?

Who’s in goal for Canada?: By choosing Carey Price over Roberto Luongo, Team Canada coach Mike Babcock seems to be taking a similar approach as Team USA coach Dan Bylsma has with Jonathan Quick. “We had a plan coming in, and we haven't changed our plan," Babcock said. “I've said this many times; at the Olympic Games you're allowed one [goalie] change.”

Getting gritty: If there is one noticeable difference between Team Russia and their North American counterparts, it’s their willingness, or lack thereof, to block shots in front of their goaltenders. The Americans were sliding all over the ice to get in the way of power-play bombs from Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. The Russians may need to do some more of that if they hope to repeat what Canada did four years ago – win four straight elimination games to win the gold.

Officially speaking: For those wondering, these Olympic games are being officiated by a collection of referees and linesmen from the NHL and Europe. Sunday’s USA-Slovenia game had referees from the NHL [Mike Leggo] and Finland [Jyri Ronn] and linesemen from the NHL [Mark Wheeler] and Slovakia [Miroslav Valach. It also had two Russian goal judges.

Just wondering: NBC color analysts Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick both noted that the Russians’ go-head goal against the Americans would have counted if the game was officiated by NHL rules but that the officials got it right on the review. Just wondering if there might have been a greater national outcry if that same call went against the Americans. By the way, can we now start calling Jonathan Quick “Peggy?”

What about us? Team Canada has had a relatively quiet start to the Olympics and can win Group B with a victory over Finland today. Marty St. Louis and P.K. Subban will be healthy scratches for the Canadians. Patrick Sharp and Matt Duchene, who were healthy scratches in Canada’s 6-0 win over Austria, are back in the lineup. Of all the Olympic teams, Canada might be playing its best hockey. Will that mean another gold? Who's your pick?

Jersey talk: I like the 2014 U.S. men’s Olympic jerseys, but not as much as those classic 1960 replicas worn against Slovenia on Sunday.  As for the Russians, the sweaters worn against the U.S. on Saturday were far cooler than the ones they sported against Slovakia on Sunday.  What's your favorite Olympic jersey so far? 

[RELATED: Is it too early to call USA-Russia a classic?]