Semyon Varlamov

Russia – U.S. goalie matchup will be Jonathan Quick vs. Sergei Bobrovsky

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The first-game starter decision might seem like it means a lot in the Olympics, but the real pivotal moment comes when a team faces a legitimate contender. In other words, plenty can be read into the United States starting Jonathan Quick and Russia going with Sergei Bobrovsky in Saturday’s showdown.

Granted, things can change even from now, especially since Bobrovsky will play his first game. A bad Quick performance may end up being Ryan Miller’s chance to improve on his silver medal 2010 run, as this will mean two starts for Quick and none for Miller so far.

Check out PHT’s two takes on the moves:

PHT on Bobrovsky starting

PHT: US goes with Quick against Russia

Wayne Gretzky dissects Olympic hockey tournament

Wayne Gretzky
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Wayne Gretzky doesn’t believe home ice pressure will make the Russian men’s hockey team somewhat beatable in Sochi.

Gretzky said the Russians will be “very difficult for anybody to beat” but stopped short of declaring them winners.

“There’s a number of teams that can win,” Gretzky said, according to The Associated Press. “It comes down to the same thing all the time: Best goaltender, and if your best player is the best player on the ice and the best line on the ice, your team is ultimately going to be the gold medal winner.”

Gretzky knows that well. He played in one Olympics, 1998 in Nagano, where his powerhouse Canadian team ran into Czech fortress Dominik Hasek in the semifinals and lost 2-1 in a shootout. Hasek stopped all five Canada shots in the shootout, in which Gretzky did not take part.

Russia’s top goalie this year is Semyon Varlamov, whose NHL numbers are comparable with the top U.S. and Canadian goalies.

Gretzky constructed the 2002 Canada Olympic Team that won gold in Salt Lake City and was on hand at the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game also won by Canada over the U.S.

The Soviet Union captured all but one Olympic men’s hockey title from 1964 through 1988. The Unified Team won in 1992, but Russia has never taken an Olympic hockey gold medal since.

“The pressure is enormous and it’s growing every day,” Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk said, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). “Everyone is expecting only one thing from us. And we won’t have the right to make an error.”

The pressure falls on Alex Ovechkin‘s shoulders more than anyone else.

“If Ovechkin is in top shape, there is no need to even put our skates on. He’ll just jump out and tear everyone apart,” forward Evgeni Malkin said, according to the IIHF, noting the Pittsburgh Penguins star’s dry humor. “As a matter of fact, it doesn’t matter what shape he is in. He’ll just drink a couple of cans of Coke and will run around like he just got scalded or something.”

Amazing race to catch most decorated Winter Olympian ever

Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin lead Russia Olympic hockey roster

Alex Ovechkin
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The last two NHL MVPs will be charged with leading Russia to the host nation’s most coveted medal at the Sochi Olympics.

Forwards Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were the biggest stars on the Russian Olympic men’s hockey roster announced Tuesday.

Russia has never won an Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey. The Soviet Union/Unified Team won every Olympic title from 1964 through 1992 except for 1980.

Ovechkin and Malkin were on the 2006 and 2010 teams that finished fourth and sixth, respectively.

Olympic hockey rosters: U.S. | Canada | Russia | Sweden | Finland | Czech Republic | Slovakia | Switzerland | Latvia | Norway | Austria | Slovenia

Russia will play the U.S. in a group-stage game on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 a.m. live on NBCSN. Slovakia and Slovenia are also in the group. All 12 teams over three groups will advance to the playoffs, but the top four teams overall receive byes into quarterfinals.

Russia is expected to start the Colorado Avalanche’s Semyon Varlamov in goal, despite his off-the-ice issues. He’s been among the top 10 or 15 goalies in the NHL this season.

Other notables include multiple-time NHL All-Star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, who is now in the KHL.

Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, 39, did not make the team in a bid for a fifth Olympics. Neither did Carolina Hurricanes star Alexander Semin

KHL forward Viktor Tikhonov is the grandson of the coach of the 1980 Soviet Union Olympic hockey team that lost to the U.S.

Here’s Russia’s full roster:

Goalies
Sergei Bobrovsky — Columbus Blue Jackets
Semyon Varlamov — Colorado Avalanche
Alexander Eremenko

Defensemen
Anton Belov — Edmonton Oilers
Alexei Emelin — Montreal Canadiens
Andrei Markov — Montreal Canadiens
Nikita Nikitin — Columbus Blue Jackets
Fedor Tyutin — Columbus Blue Jackets
Slava Voynov — Los Angeles Kings
Yevgeny Medvedev
Ilya Nikulin

Forwards
Artem Anisimov — Columbus Blue Jackets
Pavel Datsyuk — Detroit Red Wings
Nikolai Kulemin — Toronto Maple Leafs
Evgeni Malkin — Pittsburgh Penguins
Valeri Nichushkin — Dallas Stars
Alex Ovechkin — Washington Capitals
Vladimir Tarasenko — St. Louis Blues
Ilya Kovalchuk — former NHL player
Alexander Radulov — former Nashville Predators player
Viktor Tikhonov — former Phoenix Coyotes player
Denis Kokarev
Alexander Popov
Sergei Soin
Alexei Tereshchenko