The host Russians look to get things started on the right foot as they take on Slovenia in each team`s tournament opener.
The Slovenians are the feel good story of this year`s Olympic hockey tournament as they are by far the biggest outsider when it comes to international competition despite having one of the toughest forwards in the game in Anze Kopitar. The amazing part of Slovenia`s qualification was the fact that they were without the services of their only NHL player for the duration of the process and now are riding with some momentum into the world`s biggest tournament by getting their star player back. The reward though for their efforts is getting the host nation in their first contest who will certainly be playing with some fire as the pressure on them to win gold is palpable. The unfortunate part for the Slovenians beyond the fact they will be badly outmatched in every contest is that none of their players really play together on the club scene which for some of the outskirt hockey nations is a plus they have coming in but with a scattered makeup across a number of different league and countries they don`t have a lot of cohesion as a unit.
Russia heads into the tournament as one of the gold medal favourites based on the fact they have a huge home ice advantage and that their top caliber players seem to have a huge investment in doing well here, namely Alexander Ovechkin. Their quarterfinals loss to Team Canada in Vancouver still lingers with most of the Russian team and now that they`re on home ice you can imagine that the pressure is ten fold than if the Games were being played elsewhere. The Russians are loaded up front in terms of their top six but beyond that are actually alarmingly thin and their blue line beyond their top two or three fits the same bill which has me wondering if they have the makeup to take down a gold medal. The health of Pavel Datsyuk will also be a focal point as the Red Wings forward is struggling with injuries and may not be playing at 100% here. However, Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Valeri Nichushkin will handle the offensive load if Datysuk isn`t healthy. Slava Voynov and Andrei Markov achor the blue line that will play in front of Sergei Bobrovky or Semyon Varlamov which ever ones gets named the team`s starter. While I think this tournament will result in utter disappointment for the Russians in the end I think they get off on the right foot and absolutely steamroll the Slovenians and while the line is very big I think the Russians win by at least the five goals.