By James O'Brien
Make no mistake about it: The men’s Olympic hockey format calls for blowouts, so it’s that much tougher for the Russian team to spin Thursday’s performance as anything but shaky. They defeated Slovenia 5-2 in their opening game, but much like when Harvard “beat” Yale 29-29, the score will be judged very differently in context.
As the host country with NHL superstars such as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk on its roster, Russia was the gold medal choice for many. That might remain the case after this shaky start, but when you compare this three-goal margin of victory to the U.S. beating a dark horse metal contender in Slovakia 7-1, many observers must feel a little nervous about the host country’s chances.
To give you an idea of the chasm between Russia and Slovenia, consider the difference in the two country’s hockey programs:
Difference between Slovenia and Russia: Slovenia has 148 registered male players. In Russia there are 386 indoor rinks. #Sochi2014— Roman Jedlicka (@jedli) February 13, 2014
There is no doubt that Russia was the better team on the ice; the final score and shot differential (35-14) make that pretty evident.
Still, if you compare it to Finland thumping Austria 8-4 (shots 52-20), Russia pales by comparison. Fair or not, some might believe that this provides evidence that Sergei Bobrovsky deserves to tend net over Semyon Varlamov, who allowed two goals on 12 shots.
It’s an overreaction to read too much into Russia “only” winning 5-2, yet when you’re in a hockey-mad nation that hasn’t won gold since 1992, overreactions are to be expected.