Top 5 reasons why Russia failed at the Olympics (Photo © Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
With the early quarterfinals exit, Team Russia set a new negative record as this was the worse Olympic outcome in their history. Since the first participation, 1956 Olympics in Cortina, Italy, Russia never had such a poor result.
Team Russia’s roster was, on paper, the tournament’s finest, but they couldn’t live up to the expectations, even in the round robin, which Bykov’s team ended with two wins and one loss, which determined the pairing with Canada.
RussianHockeyFans.com offers you top five reasons why Russia failed at 2010 Olympics.
Reason 5: Underestimation of the opponents
If someone remembers well, we used this reason also for the WJC failure article. While this was not the case in the quarterfinals match against Canada, this sure played a role in the other Russian defeat, against Slovakia. In that game Bykov’s team played without passion, as Bykov himself stated after the game, probably thinking that it would have been enough a 5-minute push to run away with the win. Well, it wasn’t enough. I’m putting some stress on this because if team Russia would have won they would have got a better seed, staying off team Canada so early.
Reason 4: Lack of spirit among leaders
Top players, especially in the game against Canada, didn’t really show up and took the team on their shoulders. Alexander Ovechkin has been invisible in the quarterfinal match, not to talk about Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Kovalchuk. About Kovalchuk, unfortunately he didn’t manage to repeat the great effort he had in the two latest World Championships.
Let’s browse the roster in depth. Alexander Semin, only two assists, Alexander Radulov, only one goal and one assist, Pavel Datsyuk, one goal and two assists. These are not the performances a contender would need from its top players, especially considering that Ovechkin, Malkin, Semin, Kovalchuk and others are without any doubt among the best players of the world.
Reason 3: Chronic lack of goaltending
And here we go again. Even if putting all the blame over Nabokov wouldn’t be fair, once again team Russia lacked quality goaltending. Considering the good performances by both Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov in the latest international competitions, it was reasonable to expect kind of the same in Vancouver. But unfortunately Nabokov didn’t deliver against Canada, letting in a couple of soft goals in the first period. And when Bykov benched him, after the sixth goal, it was too late.
As said, it was unexpected. Nabokov finished the Olympics with a terrible .853 of saves percentage and a GAA of 4.16. For comparison’s sake, at the 2006 Turin Olympics he had, respectively, .940 and 1.34. At the Quebec World Championship, .929 and 1.78. It’s safe to hope that for Sochi 2014 Semyon Varlamov will mature enough to take the starting or the backup role.
Reason 2: Bad coaching
Yet another common point in Russian defeats at any level. There is plenty to talk about the bad coach decision in the 2010 Olympic Hockey Tournament. The first thing that we should notice is Nabokov’s usage in the quarterfinals. Why Bykov let him between the pipes after such a bad performance in the first period? While it’s easy to talk with hindsight and claim that Bryzgalov should have started, it’s safe to say that he should have been benched after the third goal or the first period to try sparking the team. He did had a couple of nice saves, but, conceding goal after goal, he lost confidence. When Bykov swapped him with Bryzgalov, the game was 6-1, too late.
Another problem of this team has been the powerplay. The Russians could assemble man advantage units made up of most of the world’s best players and yet they were the third last worst team in the round robin with 12.5%. The same percentage as Germany, who surely didn’t ice players of the caliber of Ovechkin, Malkin, Semin and Kovalchuk…on the same line. If we take the overall rankings, Russia stays the ninth seed with 15%. Once again, these aren’t statistics you can put together if you want your team to be a contender.
The third coaching’s fault was probably an over usage of the third and fourth liners. During the quarterfinals, only in the third period Bykov gave the top lines a bigger role, but once again, it was too late. Besides, Semin played not even three minutes in the game’s final stanza.
The last thing we’ll notice was that most of time team Russia didn’t feature good teamplay, but mostly relied on one-by-ones or trying to do it all alone.
Vyacheslav Bykov has been team Russia’s second big disappointment after Nabokov. It looked like a good coach was finally found, but it looks like he’s not Olympic quality.
Reason 1: Let’s face it, Canada was the best team
Canada dominated Russia since the first minute. After the first period many would have asked if this was a WJC game or an Olympic game as the game was loopsided in favor of the Canadians in a fashion never seen during international games. In the quarterfinal match Canada had much more than Russia in all departments: a better goalie (Luongo), better defensive play and, a bit surprisingly, better offense too. They might have less “names”, but they managed to overcome all this with a more focus and physical play. There isn’t much else to say on this matter, simply the best team deservedly won.
Russian Hockey Federation will have plenty to think over in order to avoid another debacle on the home soil in 2014.