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Russia aims to use skill, larger ice

Friday, 02.14.2014 / 1:40 PM ET / News
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Russia aims to use skill, larger ice

SOCHI -- Russia captain Pavel Datsyuk knows the up-and-down North American game as well as anybody here, having played it for nearly 13 years with the Detroit Red Wings. He also knows how different that style is from the skilled game the Russians want to play on the big ice at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Saturday against the United States.

Datsyuk thinks only one way can work for his team.

"If we play our hockey, it'll be easy for us," Datsyuk said after practice Friday. "If we start to play not our hockey, not good for us."

The U.S. isn't planning to make it easy for Russia in the second game of Group A preliminary-round play for each team (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

The Americans want to be hard, fast and physical every chance they get against the Russians.

They'll use a shutdown defense pair of Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin against the uber-skilled line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin. They may also use a bruising checking line of Dustin Brown, David Backes and Ryan Callahan against those three Russian stars.

"We do have a group of guys that can go right up against and do go right up against their type of skill and their type of players," U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. "That's how the game is going to play out [Saturday]. We don't match their skill. If we try to we won't win. But we can be hard to play against, and we can be an abrasive team that's going to go square, nose to nose with some of the best skill in the world [Saturday]."

The Russians are expecting that kind of game from the Americans.

"I think it will be tough, a lot of skating," Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk said. "On the big rink it's tough to hit, but I bet you there will be a lot of hits as well."

Datsyuk, though, had a warning for the American players who like to hit.

"It's a big arena, a long run to [hit someone]," he said. "We know how to play."

Better yet, Datsyuk doesn't think the Russians will have the same type of nerves going into the game Saturday as they did Thursday, when they jumped out quickly on Slovenia but had to score twice in the third period to pull away for a 5-2 win.

"It's a little bit less now, it's more comfortable, but we know [Thursday was] Slovenia and the U.S. is a different level team," Datsyuk said. "We need to prepare now for America, a bigger game, and be ready in every game now."

Kovalchuk called the game against the United States "a great opportunity to test ourselves."

"It's not the elimination games yet, so we can try some things out," he said.

What those things may be are not yet known because Russia coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov will not announce his starting goalie and healthy scratches until the pregame skate Saturday.

It's certainly possible that Bilyaletdinov will opt to give Sergei Bobrovsky the start in net over Semyon Varlamov, who gave up two goals on 14 shots Thursday.

If there's one thing the United States proved to Russia in its 7-1 win against Slovakia on Thursday, it's to be prepared for some offense. There was some curiosity about how offensive the Americans would be on the big ice, but they put that to rest by scoring six unanswered goals in the second period.

"I think it was a surprise for themselves, because 7-1 is not the score they were expecting, but it said a lot about the team," Kovalchuk said. "They have a lot of firepower up front. We have to be very careful."

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  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
R. Sheahan 81 14 11 -8 25
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80