Alex Ovechkin has gotten much of the press attention regarding the Russian hockey team’s attempt to win the Olympic tournament on home ice, but it could be argued Evgeni Malkin is the squad’s best player.
The Pittsburgh Penguins star center made his case for top billing Thursday morning as he scored three points in Russia’s 5-2 victory over Slovenia at Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi.
Malkin deftly assisted on Ovechkin’s goal 1:17 into the game, then “Geno” scored a signature tally of his own less than three minutes later to give Russia a quick 2-0 advantage in front of a throaty partisan crowd. Ovechkin tipped a neutral-zone pass to Malkin, who sprinted in for a breakaway goal.
Slovenia kept it unexpectedly close in their first-ever Olympic hockey game, but Malkin added an assist on Ilya Kovalchuk‘s power-play goal in the second period and the Russians scored twice more in the third to pull away.
Elsewhere in Group A, Dan Bylsma‘s Team USA put on an impressive display in a 7-1 trouncing of Slovakia at Shayba Arena. The Americans scored six goals in the second period to break a 1-1 tie, led by three points (1g, 2a) from Phil Kessel and two goals by Paul Stastny, whose father and uncles famously starred for Slovakia on the international stage.
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin played a game-high 19:46 on the USA blueline and looked quite comfortable on the large ice surface, while Brooks Orpik functioned as the seventh defenseman for Bylsma, getting 10:51 and finishing with a plus-3 rating. The United States will face Russia at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning in the second preliminary round game for both teams.
Austria jumped to a 2-1 lead in the first period, but Jokinen set up Sami Lepisto for the tying goal and Maatta blasted the go-ahead strike in a nine-minute span. Jokinen later added a goal of his own in the second period as the Finns ran away with the day’s opening match.
Finally, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz were held off the scoresheet in Canada’s 3-1 defeat of pesky Norway. Crosby fired a pair of shots on goal in just over 15 minutes of ice time; Kunitz also directed a couple of pucks on target and played his typical feisty game near the front of the net.
Canada and Finland swap opponents for Friday’s action, with both teams playing at noon Eastern time against Austria and Norway, respectively.