Russians in the NHL: Bryzgalov flourishes as Ovechkin falters

Bryzgalov’s teammates do everything to make his life easier. Source: Getty Images / Fotobank

Bryzgalov’s teammates do everything to make his life easier. Source: Getty Images / Fotobank

Ilya Bryzgalov wants to bow out of hockey on a high note, Pavel Datsyuk revives Detroit’s flagging play-off hopes, and Alexander Ovechkin sets a statistical anti-record – Russian hockey players are again on everyone’s lips for both the right and the wrong reasons.

Ilya Bryzgalov, the 33-year-old goalkeeper for NHL team Minnesota Wild, has announced that he may retire from hockey at the end of the season. “I have already become a free agent,” Twin Cities quoted Bryzgalov as saying. “But that doesn’t mean anything because I’m not sure about whether I want to play next season. Right now I’m interested in playing each match for Minnesota well.”

Bryzgalov’s statement coincided with a fantastic game for the club by the goalkeeper. On April 7, Bryzgalov achieved his fourth shutout for the season (the third for Wild). This time Minnesota made short work of Winnipeg.

The score of 1:0 shows the role that Bryzgalov played in this victory. But his Russian teammates also performed with distinction. The Minnesota defense certainly cannot be compared with that of Phoenix or Philadelphia. Bryzgalov does not exactly have to perform a herculean task.

Bryzgalov’s teammates do everything to make the veteran’s life easier. They block shots, eliminate unexpected counterattacks, and repel opponents from the goal area so that they do not block the goalkeeper’s view. In a word, Bryzgalov does not have partners, but gold. And in conditions where he can keep a cool head and calm nerves, the Russian goalie operates almost completely error-free. As for Minnesota Wild, the team is confident in the reliability of its goalkeeper.

What Bryzgalov said after the match against Winnipeg would be accurate for almost any game that the Russian plays for Minnesota. “The team played wonderfully,” said Bryzgalov. “We gave our rivals almost nothing to work with. It was not difficult for me today. I saw moments for shots; many of them were blocked.”

Ilya now has a chance to end his career on an excellent note. He has already won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim and there is now the possibility of leading Minnesota to victory – which would be an historic triumph. Before, the dream of the “Wild Ones” was to reach the third round in the playoffs. The club’s Canadian coach Mike Yeo is capable of offering a surprise in the current season with his attractive team, and Bryzgalov has the full potential to become one of the key figures in Minnesota’s potential glory.

Datsyuk will bring Detroit to the playoffs

For some NHL teams, the decisive matches determining whether they will get into the playoffs or not have already been played. Detroit, as in the previous season, is hanging by a thread. But that thread has been strengthened considerably with the return of the Russian center forward Pavel Datsyuk. The captain of the Russian Olympic team had been injured, and only now is he back on the ice.

He has already played in two games, against Buffalo and Montreal, and distinguished himself with many positive contributions to the team’s fortunes. The team wins face-offs more often, and is playing more aggressively and cunningly both in offense and in general. The return to action of one of its leading players has made Detroit a stronger unit at the business end of the championships.

Ovechkin fails to shine

And then there is the case of the Washington Capitals’ forward Alexander Ovechkin, who, like his team, is not doing as well as one would wish. Ovechkin still brings results: In the match against St.  Louis he reached 50 goals for the current NHL season. This season is now the fifth in Ovechkin’s career in which he has scored 50 or more goals. However, he is not shining in other aspects of the game - Ovechkin’s overall efficiency quotient this season is -34, putting him in 869th place – ranking him last among all players in the league. 

The season has not worked out well for Ovechkin, although he distinguished himself in almost every match at the beginning of the current regular NHL season. But then he started preparing for the Olympic Games, which ended in the Russian team’s defeat to the Finns in the quarter-finals.

A completely different Ovechkin returned to Washington from Sochi. Out of the 20 NHL matches since the Olympics, the Capitals have won nine. Following the disastrous defeat by Dallas, Washington’s chief coach Adam Oates blamed Ovechkin for having given up at some point. Indeed, the captain of the capital’s team did not resemble himself. He moved little and never took the initiative. In summary, he did not do what was expected of him in a whole series of matches. Of course, Ovechkin has scored 11 goals in these 20 matches; but a few goals are not enough.

Based on material published by RBC and Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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