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Datsyuk sits out Russia's first practice

by Dan Rosen

SOCHI -- Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk did not practice with his Russian teammates Monday, but coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said he is hopeful Russia's captain will be ready to go by Thursday, when the host country opens the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Slovenia (7:30 a.m. ET, MSNBC, CBC).

"I don't think it's a serious problem, dangerous," Bilyaletdinov said through an interpreter after practice Monday. "I think he's going to be OK."

Datsyuk missed 14 straight games with a lower-body injury before returning last week to play Detroit's final two games before the Olympic break. However, he played fewer than 15 minutes in both games.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland admitted that he is concerned about Datsyuk's health, but he understands why playing in the Olympics in his own country is important to the Russian superstar.

"I understand it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Holland said. "In his hockey lifetime the Olympics will never be in Russia [again], he's the captain. He's probably been preparing for this two-week tournament five, six years ago when it was announced that it was coming to Russia. I'm sure if he couldn't play, he won't play. Is he a hundred percent? Probably not, but there's probably other players in this tournament that aren't a hundred percent as well.

"I'm hoping, obviously, when we come out of the tournament that he's ready to go for us. You're trusting that they know their bodies, he knows the challenges both in this tournament and when he gets back to Detroit."

Holland said he can't prevent Datsyuk from playing in the Olympics.

"That's really the agreement between the Players' Association and the NHL and the IIHF," he said. "The NHL players are coming here and every federation gets to announce their roster. I talked to Johan Franzen 10 days ago and asked him what he thought about going to the Olympics, and he told me he'd made a decision the day before that he was going to call the Sweden federation and bow out.

"If a player feels he can play, he's going to play. And I think from a team standpoint, we have to respect that there's an agreement in place and respect that the player knows his body better than anybody else and he's making the right decision."

Alexander Svitov, who plays for Ak-Bars Kazan in the Kontinental Hockey League, was skating in Datsyuk's spot during practice between former New Jersey Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk and former Nashville Predators right wing Alexander Radulov.

"I think he'll be good before the first game," Kovalchuk said of Datsyuk. "You know they just came in a couple hours ago so some of their equipment is not here yet. So it's all those little details. I think [Tuesday] everybody's going to skate."

Russia's top line featured Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin in the middle with Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin on his left side and Carolina Hurricanes forward Alexander Semin on his right.

Ovechkin obviously is familiar with Semin, having played with him for six seasons in Washington.

"Yeah I know him right away," Ovechkin said. "As soon as I get the puck on the left side I know where he's going to be. I'm sure it's going to be easy to find out chemistry with Geno [Malkin]. We just have to play for his style. He likes to control the puck, control the game. We're going to have to do some different things with him."

Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said it's still unknown who Russia's starting goalie will be Thursday; Bilyaletdinov's choices include Bobrovsky and Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov.

"It's too early now," Bobrovsky said. "We have to adapt to the time [change], to the ice. That's most important for us."

These were Russia's lines and defense pairs Monday:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeni Malkin - Alexander Semin

Ilya Kovalchuk - Alexander Svitov - Alexander Radulov

Nikolai Kulemin - Artem Anisimov - Vladimir Tarasenko

Viktor Tikhonov - Alexei Tereshenko - Alexander Popov

Valeri Nichushkin

Andrei Markov - Slava Voynov

Fedor Tyutin - Ilya Nikulin

Evgeni Medvedev - Alexei Emelin

Nikita Nikitin - Anton Belov

Sergei Bobrovsky

Semyon Varlamov

Alexander Yeremenko

Did not practice: Pavel Datsyuk


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