Russia's play a thing of beauty
By MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun
IT'S NOT just the story line. Okay, it's the story line.
The World Cup of Hockey needs Team Russia the way a plant needs oxygen, the way Fred needed Ginger.
Honestly, who can get worked up against a team of Swedes or Finns unless, of course, you are a Swede or a Finn.
Beating the Americans is like kicking the cane out from under your grandfather.
Team Russia, on the other hand, is a jaw-dropping thing of beauty, a collection of talents so mesmerizing, you can't help but enjoy them.
Russia is in the World Cup of Hockey for at least one more game -- tomorrow in St. Paul, Minn., against Team USA -- and you get the feeling, a little bit more.
The Russians hammered Slovakia 5-2 at the Air Canada Centre last night.
The Russian hockey system, stripped naked and left for dead, has once again furnished a jaw-dropping roster. Sweden brought perhaps their most-talented group of position players to any tournament, yet it is Team Russia that has emerged as the event's head spinners.
They are 2-1. The Russians are, easy winners over the Americans and Slovakia, not good enough to beat Canada, right now.
Sergei Fedorov, Alexei Zhitnik and Nikolai Khabibulin all took a pass from the World Cup. Khabibulin was particularly disdainful and said the Russians had zero chance of winning the tournament. Maybe not, but the night after an emotional loss to Canada, the Russians toyed with Slovakia.
Now the Russians -- having acquitted themselves well against Canada and dominated Slovakia -- see a bloated, aged American side they already have beaten between them and the semi-finals.
"With some teams it is," said Alexei Yashin when asked if the tournament opening whipping of the Americans could make a difference. "We know we can play a good game against them, for ourselves, for our team and for our country."
Russia generated goals from Pavel Datsyuk, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Samsonov, Yashin and, in his first game of the tournament, Alexander Ovechkin.
The Samsonov goal was nice enough, it came on a pass from Dainius Zubrus in which he slipped the puck through an opening so slim, he couldn't have made it had there been any snow on the puck.
That was nothing compared to the drive-by goal Kovalev delivered in the second. He picked up the puck at the Slovakia blue line, abused Martin Strbak and another Slovak defender and then ripped a shot past goalie Jan Lasak.
Alexander Frolov, a Los Angeles Kings draftee, easily shucked off a Slovakian defender and fed Yashin for the fourth goal.
Ovechkin, drafted first overall by the Washington Capitals, dazzled in the first period and scored in the third. Dmitry Afanasenkov's behind-the- back assist on Ovenchkin's goal would make you weep.
Ilya Kovalchuk had an off night. He only made you gulp hard twice. You get the idea.
Russia's goaltending, expected to be a weak point, has been fine. Maxim Sokolov, beaten for three goals by Canada, turned in an honest night. Ilya Bryzgalov was fine last night against Slovakia but Canada's advantage holds in goal.
Bryzgalov is no Martin Brodeur. Then again, he's no Mikael Tellqvist.
Bryzgalov played only one game for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim last year.
"I hear it from the Russian press, from the Canadian press, the American press, every time I read the paper," Bryzgalov said.
"The Russians don't have a goalie. The Russians don't have a goalie. All I want to do is change that opinion and show that they do."
If he does, ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves tournament instead of a coronation.