For the home team and Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, the Olympic hockey tournament finally got underway Thursday afternoon in Sochi.
Datsyuk didn’t figure in the scoring but the Russians had plenty of fire power to out-muscle Slovenia to a 5-2 victory before 11,653 fans at Bolshoy Ice Dome. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov scored for Russia.
The tournament is a very big deal for the Russians who haven’t won a major championship since the 1981 Canada Cup, and Datsyuk, despite a left leg injury insisted on playing in this historic event in his homeland.
The Red Wings’ two-way center missed 14 straight games after the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day. He returned to the Detroit lineup last Thursday playing in the Wings’ final two games prior to the Olympic break at Florida and Tampa Bay.
In those games, Datsyuk – who is averaging more than 20-minutes of ice time this season – uncharacteristically played the wing on a line centered by Darren Helm. Datsyuk logged just 13:34 minutes against the Panthers and 14:46 against the Lightning, and only took one face-off when Helm was tossed from the circle against Florida.
Selected to be Russia’s team captain, Datsyuk centered the top line with former NHL forwards Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov. Whether or not he was bothered by the injury, Datsyuk just didn’t look like himself in the opener, firing just one shot on goal and winning 7-of-15 face offs.
For Slovenia, the game marked that country’s Olympic hockey debut. The Slovenians had to win a qualifying round last February with three consecutive victories, including victories over previous Olympic qualifiers Belarus and Demark.
Former Red Wings forward Jan Mursak played on Slovenia’s top line with Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar. The pair is Slovenia’s only players to ever play in the NHL.
Center Ziga Jeglic scored both goals for Slovenia, who will play Slovakia on Saturday in Group A, while Russia will meet the USA in Saturday’s other Group A contest.