Team Russia dismantled Team Norway 4-0 Tuesday afternoon to advance to the quarterfinals vs. Finland, but the host nation’s biggest star, Alex Ovechkin, has been continuing to struggle in Sochi.
The Capitals’ goal scorer has been under a lot of pressure lately with his recent slump. With Team Finland up next for the Russians, Ovechkin is going to have to show up sooner rather than later. Here are five takeaways from Ovi’s performance against Norway:
1. His goal-scoring drought has now reached three games.
His only goal of the Olympics was back in the prelims against Slovenia, along with only one assist and a +2 plus/minus. This kind of performance is not expected of someone who is considered the world’s top goal scorer.
In an interview with the New York Daily News' Filip Bondy, Ovechkin stated that his own stats do not compare to the end goal for Russia.
"It's not about personal statistics," Ovechkin said. "We're here to win gold medal."
Some players have different roles than others. Russians like Slava Voynov are expected to get into the dirty areas of the ice, while players like Ovechkin are out there to put up as many points as possible. So far, he has not been doing his job.
Ovechkin must prove to his teammates, his coach and himself why he was chosen to Team Russia for his skills, not just his name.
2. Finland is not Norway.
Norway only had one NHL skater on its roster (Mats Zuccarello), and he did not even play in the matchup vs. the Russians. Ovechkin could not muster up a single point against a group of non-NHLers, which should worry Russian fans. The team's next opponent, Finland, has a wide variety of NHL talent that has a quality chance to pull out an upset.
Ovechkin will compete with the likes of veterans Teemu Selanne and Sami Salo, along with having to face one of the world’s top goaltender, Tuukka Rask, in net. Ovi has to realize that even if it does get past Finland, the competition for Russia will only get faster and tougher, so he has to prove himself in what is going to be a pivotal matchup.
In a one-on-one interview with RMNB's Ian Oland, Ovechkin explains that Team Russia's matchup with Finland is going to be a battle.
"It's going to be a fight to the death," Ovechkin said. "Tomorrow is war, and we are ready for war."
3. He must use his teammates to his advantage.
This may seem obvious (since hockey is a team game), but Ovechkin cannot listen to his critics who expect multi-goal games from him.
Ovechkin has only one assist in Sochi so far, and that says a lot when it comes to how he is playing. He may be trying to do everything himself, but he can’t. He is playing with some of the top talent in the world, and he must find them on the ice if he is looking to improve his game.
Individual performances can only get teams so far. No. 8 will have to build better chemistry with his linemates if he hopes to emerge as a leader for Team Russia.
4. His legacy may be on the line.
Before the Sochi games began, people wondered whether it was gold medal or bust for Team Russia. Others speculated whether gold would help contribute to Ovechkin’s legacy.
The winger is already a three-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner, a Calder Memorial Trophy winner and an Art Ross Trophy winner, but the 28-year-old has not won a Stanley Cup or an Olympic medal.
To win a gold medal, it will not just be up to Ovechkin but the entire Russian squad. The thing is, to build your legacy, you’re going to have to contribute something to your team, and Ovi has not been offering up a whole lot for the Russians.
Sure, he is still in his prime—but the clock is ticking.
5. He is going to have to live up to the expectations bestowed upon him.
Ovechkin was expected to carry Russia to the gold because he is one of, if not the top active Russian hockey player. It is a lot of pressure. There is no doubt about that. However, he knew that coming into Sochi.
Though he has not lived up to the expectations so far, he can still salvage the respect of his fellow Russians with a big performance against Finland on Wednesday. If he can do that, he will gain an air of confidence that can propel him and his team to their first gold medal since 1988.