2010 Olympics: Will Team Russia Be Able to Hold Up On the Back End?

Andy BenschSenior Writer IFebruary 5, 2010

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 26:  Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks poses for his Olympic Photo Shoot in his team Russia jersey for the 2010 Olympics.  (Photo by Don Smith/Getty Images)
Don Smith/Getty Images

Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin, and Nikolai Zherdev are by far the most talented top-six forwards that any country has.

Possible top two scoring lines could look as follows:



Not to mention a possible third line combination of:


The Russians will have no problems scoring—that will be certain.

However, the big question surrounding the Russians will be there ability to defend in their own zone. Can the defense and goaltending hold up enough to win the gold?

Arguably, it is the same question Sharks fans are asking about their team.

First off, like San Jose, the Russians will have Evgeni Nabokov as the last line of defense. Throughout his career, Nabokov has been one of the best in the league in bailing out his defense with incredible mind-blowing saves.

But any team with Nabokov in net will risk the 34-year-old net-minder giving up his patented weak goal through five-hole, which has plagued the career-Shark since his rookie season.

Fortunately for Russia, their backup netminder for the Olympics isn't the inexperienced Sharks backup Thomas Greiss. Instead, they have Phoenix Coyotes star Ilya Bryzgalov to take over.

If Nabokov shows any miniscule signs of trouble, you can be assured that Bryzgalov will take over in net. In all honesty, Bryzgalov arguably brings more to the table at this point in his career.

At 6'3", Bryzgalov takes up more of the net than the 6'0" Nabokov. He is also four years younger and has had fewer injury issues. While Nabokov's save percentage is a tad higher at .927 compared to .920, Bryzgalov has posted six shutouts compared to Nabokov's two.

Bryzgalov has a style that allows him to be more consistent and less susceptible to the weak goal that can deflate a team holding a one goal lead. Unlike Nabokov, Bryzgalov doesn't sit and complain to the ref about goalie interference while the play is still going on.

Now perhaps I'm being a little harsh on the Sharks' net-minder, but watching him game in and game out, it is disturbing to see how many of his goals-against are of the weak variety.

But that is the good news about goaltending in the Olympics—either perform or be replaced, simple as that.

And the Russians are set in goal with either Nabokov or Bryzgalov between the pipes in any given game.

Defensively, Russia may have some depth problems, but if healthy that unit should suffice to get them into the Gold Medal match.

Headlined by Montreal's Andrei Markov and Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar, the Russians have an offensive punch similar to San Jose's Dan Boyle and Rob Blake (if Blake were in his prime, but you get the picture).

The offensive punch from the blue-line is evident, especially when you throw in Sergei Zubov.

But how will the defense fair in their own zone? Ottawa's Anton Volchenkov and Columbus' Fedor Tyutin have plenty of experience defending the best players in the world and yet are young enough to help take pressure of the older Russian defenseman.

Rounding out the Russian defense will be Vitaly Atyushov of the KHL. The 30-year-old defenseman has been good for about a half-point per game and has been captain of his KHL team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

While this defensive corps may not have the size of other squads, the offensive upside brought to the table makes up for any shortcomings on the defensive side of the puck.

Furthermore, the combined 52 years of NHL experience amongst the top-five defenders allows for a savvy presence despite a lack of dominant defensive skill.

This team won't get too high or too low. They have world class goaltending and offensive firepower up and down the lineup.

Barring injuries to the top defensive pair of Markov and Gonchar, the Russian defense should be just good enough to reach the Gold Medal game, and once they get there, anything can happen with the potency of their offense.

A fair share of experts have had Canada and Russia in the final for awhile. However, even after looking at the suspect defense, it is clear that the offense from the top-two D-pairs along with the goaltending will be plenty to get them over the hump.

Look for Russia to be playing for the Gold in Vancouver.