Lack of top-end talent on the back-end killed Russia’s Olympic dreams

Picture: Varlamov should stop that, but Aaltonen shouldn’t be there in the first place.

The Russians, they are Finn-i (ha). Kaput. No more. And that might be literal after Vladimir Putin gets through with ‘em.

Everyone has their own theories about why, and there’s no small amount of varied opinions (more on this later fromScott Lewis).

Mine, is simply that their defense wasn’t good enough. And while that’s a commonly accepted fact, I think it has less to do with what most people associate that with – they get burned and give up scoring chances – and more to do with their lack of talent around the puck. Let me explain.

In hockey, true talent comes with cleanliness. Not so much in hygienic sense, as in the ability to manipulate the puck. If I were tossed into that Finland/Russia Olympic hockey game during the peak of my hockey career, you’d notice that I would occasionally bobble a less-than-perfect pass, it would cost me a second, and that lost moment would eliminate the time I would need to find the proper play with the puck. Also, I would get murdered by bigger, faster men, but you’d notice that bad-pass-taking too. Receiving a pass cleanly allows you to get your head up and make a quick pass, instead of having to force it to a guy a second later as the play develops.

When you play with the best NHL hockey players, the expression “you can’t give a good player a bad pass” plays out in front of your eyes. A pass can be in their feet, at the toe of their stick, wherever, it hits their blade like a gunshot (get out of here with your “cushion the pass” nonsense) and they have full control of it. Smack, what’s next? It’s one of the minor differences between AHLers (and below) and the best NHLers. It’s a true skill to control the puck.

And, along the same vein, it’s a true skill to take a one-timer when the pass isn’t in your wheelhouse, or when it’s rolling, or when it’s coming harder than you thought. The best in the world can, while the level just a whisker below struggle with it. I’d have shot the puck Ilya Kovalchuk buried over the glass somewhere in the corner because it wasn’t perfectly flat and it was passed to his front foot.

In Russia’s lost to the Finns, those minor, minor deficiencies were noticeable from the likes of Yevgeni Medvedev, and even NHLers Nikitin and Tyutin. They weren’t remotely on the level of guys like Kovalchuk and Datsyuk, so every offensive zone possession seemed to come to a crashing halt when the puck came to their sticks.

Of course, they were also badly deficient defensively, but you already knew that. You saw Nikitin get walked, you saw Medvedev spinning like a top in front of Bobrovsky as the game slipped away, that stuff was noticeable.

But the top end talent simply wasn’t there for this Russian team. As Jeff Marek put it, the Russians have just lacked the top-level defenseman to win against the best teams with consistency. It isn’t just the chances their under-talented D-corps gave up that buried them. Their lack of defensive talent has left them unable to cleanly and quickly work with their high-flying forwards, and that’s part of the reason the defense-forward spread was so bad. You’ve got to be able to get those guys the puck for them to be valuable, which is one of the reasons teams like Canada and Sweden have been so successful in recent years.

They may not have been the only reasons for Russia’s failure in their home country today – they shoulda started Bobrovsky, Ovi didn’t score or whatever…there are other reasons. But this team was never that frightening because they never had the horses at the back.

Lack of top-end talent on the back-end killed Russia’s Olympic dreams
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