From the beginning of the men’s hockey tournament in Sochi, Russia never looked like a team ready to live up to the expectations heaped upon it as the host nation in these Olympics.
There was a gross absence of offense, questionable personnel decisions, a lack of chemistry between stars and no evidence of a cohesive strategy. Not even wins seemed to assuage concerns that this team, dripping with scoring firepower, wouldn’t be able to find a rhythm in time to reach the medal rounds.
This disappointing exit on home ice started a search for scapegoats – Russian Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov singled out Alex Ovechkin’s inability to score unprompted in his postgame comments. But this elimination can’t be pegged on one player, because aside from the opening five minutes of their first game in Sochi back on Feb. 13, Russia’s offense never lived up to its potential.
Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin – two of the top 10 scorers in the NHL this season – both went scoreless in the final four games of the tournament, neither recorded more than one goal. They never clicked as linemates but weren’t split apart until Russia fell behind Finland in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Alexander Semin didn’t score a single goal in the tournament.
Then there was the atrocious power play, which went 3 for 19 in five games but was never altered, even as it struggled throughout the preliminary round. Russia’s power play couldn’t generate shots regularly, let alone quality scoring chances.
In perhaps one of the best examples of Russia’s futility in this tournament, Ovechkin was relegated to the point for much of his time on the man advantage – where his shot is considerably less dangerous. Even as they searched for offense in the preliminary round, even as they tried to stave off elimination against Finland, the approach never changed.
For a team that appeared so offensively intimidating on paper, Russia never managed to meld that individual talent into collective success. And when the early signs of ineffectiveness crept in, Russia failed to adjust, leaving a hockey-rabid country wondering why it did not.