Russian mates Kovalchuk, Afinogenov showing little cohesion
February 20, 2010 10:00 AM
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Evgeni Malkin skates with the puck during Russia's 2-1 loss to Slovakia Thursday.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Evgeni Malkin, solo artist?
That is how he has looked for most of Russia's first two games, and through no apparent fault of his own: Malkin has skated feverishly since the first faceoff, at times bowling through teammates and opponents alike to win loose pucks. But there has been no more than scant indication that he is clicking with linemates Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov.
On one level, that should be little surprise despite the compelling assembly of names: Kovalchuk's passing is not a strong suit, certainly not compared to his shooting, and many of his shots have been blocked. He has been the target of most of Malkin's passes, with little reciprocation. Afinogenov always has been known more for his speed than hands, and there has been little chemistry.
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Malkin's overall numbers are decent -- goal, assist and 11 shots -- but there were times in the 2-1 shootout loss to Slovakia late Thursday that he skated an entire shift without touching the puck, and followers of the Penguins know how rare that is.
Malkin has maintained that he is happy with his line -- "These are good players, and we spent some time together in Russia," he said, referring to the national team's brief camp last summer -- but do not be surprised if coach Slava Bykov makes a change before the game Sunday against the Czech Republic.
One possibility could be to move Pavel Datsyuk, who looks just as isolated on the top line with Washington teammates Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, with Malkin.
Miller vs. Brodeur
U.S. coach Ron Wilson already had made known that Ryan Miller will start all of the Americans' games in goal, barring something "unusual," and Canada coach Mike Babcock took a similar step by announcing Friday that Martin Brodeur will face the U.S. on Sunday.
Babcock said he liked the way Brodeur handled what he called "pressure" in the 3-2 shootout victory Thursday against Switzerland.
"His example was terrific," Babcock said.
Expect Roberto Luongo -- not Marc-Andre Fleury -- to be the backup.
Jagr hints at return
Jaromir Jagr, after scoring his second goal in as many games for the Czech Republic in the 5-2 victory against Latvia Friday, hinted afterward that he wants to return to the NHL.
"Maybe I want to try to play here," Jagr said.
Jagr, 38, who has spent the past two seasons in Russia, has been dominant in the early going here.
With the addition of defenseman Sven Butenschon to Germany's roster, the full list of former Penguins in the tournament is at a dozen.
The rest are Jagr, Ryan Malone and Ryan Whitney of the United States, Aleksey Morozov of Russia, Jarkko Ruutu of Finland, Konstantin Koltsov of Belarus, and five for Slovakia: Miroslav Satan, Marian Hossa, Zigmund Palffy, Richard Lintner and Martin Strbak.
Strbak was an unsung hero for Slovakia in the upset Thursday, a force at both ends.
While most of the early men's games have been competitive, even some that were expected to be laughers, the women's side has continued to show a huge gap between the top two teams, Canada and the U.S., and the rest of the field. Early on, Canada beat Slovakia, 18-0, and the Americans twice have scored a dozen goals.
Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, had a simple explanation.
"We have 80,000 girls playing hockey in Canada, we have around 60,000 in the U.S., and we have 267 girls playing in Slovakia," Fasel said. "If 80,000 girls play against 267, that's the 18-0."