Why Russia Is the Most Dangerous Team in the 2014 Olympic Hockey Tournament

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterFebruary 18, 2014

Russia forward Alexander Ovechkin greets forward Ilya Kovalchuk after a third period goal by forward Pavel Datsyuk against the USA during a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

If history can teach us anything about Russia's hockey team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it's that the rest of the field should be very worried right now.

Four years ago, the host Canadians lost in the preliminary round to Team USA and failed to earn a bye into the quarterfinals. They won their way out of qualification, beat the Russians handily in the quarterfinals and emerged from the 2010 Winter Olympics with gold medals draped around their necks.

Presently, the host Russians lost in the preliminary round to Team USA and failed to earn a bye into the quarterfinals. They won their way out of qualification Tuesday by soundly defeating Norway 4-0 and have a quarterfinal date with Finland on Wednesday.

History could be repeating itself in Sochi. 

Losing in group play isn't the worst thing that can happen to a team at the Olympics. Every team to win gold since 1998 lost at least once before the knock-out round—in 2006, Sweden lost 5-0 to Russia and 3-0 to Slovakia in group play before winning its gold medal. An extra game against a weak opponent in a short tournament where players are getting to know each other can prove to be beneficial.

Production from Russia's Top Six Forwards
PlayerGoalsAssistsShotsAvg. TOI
Alexander Ovechkin112119:33
Yevgeni Malkin121619:34
Ilya Kovalchuk20719:19
Alex Radulov33919:30
Pavel Datsyuk23918:07
Alexander Semin01616:01
All other forwards2430

The somewhat beleaguered Alex Radulov used the extra game against Norway to get himself going. He delivered two goals and an assist after he was unfairly vilified and drew the ire of his coach following the loss to the Americans.

Offense was never a question for Russia, but it has become an issue in the tournament. Alex Ovechkin, Yevgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin and Radulov comprise quite the amazing top-six group of forwards.

This is a team capable of putting up four or five goals on any team remaining in the tournament, even if they're shooting against Tuukka Rask of Finland or Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden. 

Yet they've had their issues through four games. They scored five against Slovenia, but only two against the Americans, zero against Slovakia and had just two goals against Norway before an empty-netter and garbage-time goal to cap it. It's been a mix of bad luck, great goaltending and perhaps too much of a gap between the top-two and bottom-two lines vexing the Russian offense thus far.

That's where the extra game in qualification can come in handy. It could be just what Russia needed to work on its chemistry and while it didn't result in an offensive explosion against Norway, it could mean trouble for Finland on Wednesday.

Russia Goaltending Statistics
GoalieGamesGAASave Pct.
Sergei Bobrovsky21.44.946
Semyon Varlamov20.96.951

The real question for Russia entering the tournament was the back end and goaltending, but it's been nothing short of splendid. Russia has put up a wall in front of its net that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev wouldn't be able to tear down.

The Russians haven't allowed a goal in their past two games. Their only loss in the tournament to Team USA was largely due to a correctly-enforced-yet-silly rule about nets being off their moorings. They lost 3-2 in a shootout but held Team USA, the highest-scoring team through group play, to zero goals at even strength. 

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18:  Sergei Bobrovski #72 of Russia tends goal against Norway during the Men's Ice Hockey Qualification Playoff game on day eleven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Phot
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The last time the Russians allowed an even-strength goal was in their 5-2 victory against Slovenia in the tournament opener. They have an even-strength shutout streak of 191 minutes, 8 seconds that has covered three-plus games. Sergei Bobrovsky has been rock-solid dating to January, when he returned from a groin injury for the Columbus Blue Jackets, while Semyon Varlamov has been equally as effective.

Russia's next two games are likely to come against the injury-riddled Finns and Swedes, making their path to the gold-medal game look pretty smooth. 

The Russians have home-ice advantage in every game, an embarrassment of offensive riches that could awaken from its slumber at any moment, surprisingly terrific defense and won't have to face Canada or the United States, in theory, until the gold-medal game.

If Russia becomes the scoring machine everyone thought it would be without sacrificing its staunch defense, we could be a week away from leaked photos of a shirtless Vladimir Putin riding a horse with a hockey gold medal around his neck. 


Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.