By virtue of finishing fifth in the preliminary round of the men’s hockey tournament, Russia has to play a qualifier game today against 12th-seeded Norway, which nonetheless provides for one additional opportunity to see the Bolshoy Ice Dome rocking with those chants of “Russ-i-a!” and “Shaybu!”
One interesting nugget about Russia: According to the lineups distributed in the arena media center, Russian Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov tweaked the Alex Ovechkin-Evgeni Malkin line for today’s game, rounding it out with Alexander Popov on the right side, instead of Alexander Semin, who started there in each of Russia’s first three games. The Russians also practiced yesterday with this configuration, and had hinted at small changes following their narrow win over Slovakia on Sunday.
Also, Ilya Kovalchuk, the left wing on center Pavel Datsyuk’s line, is in the lineup, as expected, after missing Monday’s practice following a leg injury suffered in Sunday’s game. His absence from practice was said to be just to give him a day of rest.
It’s natural to assume Russia will have its way with Norway in this game, but when the teams last met in the 2012 world championship, Norway gave them two good games. Russia won 4-2 in the prelims, and 5-2 in the quarterfinals. You can probably expect Norway to use the same sort of defense-focused game plan that Slovakia used Sunday.
Today’s winner faces No. 4 seed Finland on Wednesday.