The good news: all three Blue Jackets-linked teams in these Olympic Winter Games opened their tournaments with victories today. The bad news: two of them go head-to-head on Saturday in Sochi, a game that sets up as a huge one in the Group A standings.
Let’s start with Russia, the home team that has been saddled with big expectations and loads of pressure but was propelled by an electric crowd at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi. The Russians began their tournament today with a 5-2 win over Slovenia - a team playing its first-ever Olympic hockey game - but got a stronger test than perhaps they expected.
The Russians scored twice in the first four minutes of the game, bringing the Ice Dome to life and tilting the ice heavily in the home team’s direction. Anze Kopitar (LA Kings), the big-name NHL player on the Slovenian squad, said his team was “in awe” of the game early on and that likely contributed to their slow start.
But once the Slovenians got their feet under them, it became a completely different game.
It became a 2-1 game when Ziga Jeglic, a solid player in the German league, scored the first Slovenian goal in Olympic history and for much of the game, Russia let Slovenia hang around. Goaltender Robert Kristan made 30 saves and kept Slovenia in the mix throughout, but Russia broke away in the third period.
Some Blue Jackets notes from Russia’s opener…
- Sergei Bobrovsky did not start for Russia. Instead it was Semyon Varlamov, who didn’t have to do much but was dented for a pair of goals from Jeglic (the second on a breakaway in the third period). There’s been no word on Russia’s starting goalie for Saturday’s game against Team USA.
- Nikita Nikitin played mostly with Anton Belov and picked up an assist on Russia’s fifth goal.
- Fedor Tyutin played around 15 minutes on a second pair with Ilya Nikulin and picked up two penalty minutes.
- Artem Anisimov centered a third line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Nikolai Kulemin and also was tagged for a minor penalty. The line wasn’t used much but had some solid shifts in their first foray together.
The Americans, on paper, faced a stronger test in their opener against Slovakia. Though missing Blue Jackets forward Marian Gaborik due to injury, the Slovaks are a sneaky bunch that have pulled their share of upsets in the Olympics. This was no easy task for the United States, but the offense got rolling in the second period.
Team USA scored its six goals in the second period - after Slovakia tied the game 1-1 24 seconds into the middle frame - in a span of less than 14 minutes to break the game open. In a game with only three minor penalties, the Americans were 0-for-2 on the power play without many quality opportunities.
Paul Stastny scored twice for Team USA and the Americans put up six goals in the second period to break a 1-1 tie. Jonathan Quick was strong between the pipes, the Pacioretty-Stastny-Oshie line was probably the U.S.’ most impressive trio and they rolled to a 7-1 victory.
Next up for Team USA: Russia on Saturday morning. It’s a 7:30 a.m. (ET) puck drop and one you will not want to miss.