Ovechkin sees 'good' fit with Malkin for Olympics
Alex Ovechkin does not want to think about the Olympics.
That was hard, though, Wednesday night as Ovechkin watched his probable future center Evgeni Malkin do his thing at Consol Energy Center.
“If we're going to play together, it's going to be a good line,” Ovechkin said of likely skating on Malkin's wing at the Games in Sochi, Russia, next month.
Malkin told the Tribune-Review two weeks ago that Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov wanted to skate him and Ovechkin on a line together — even though that was not the original plan. Team Russia faces immense pressure to win the Olympic tournament because Canada claimed gold at its Olympics in Vancouver four years ago, Malkin said.
Russian players will look to captain Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit) and Ilya Kovalchuk, who left the NHL to play in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, for leadership. But Ovechkin and Malkin are expected to carry the scoring load at their third Olympics.
“Everybody in Russia knows that ‘Ovi' and ‘Geno' are the great scorers for us,” Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis) said in November before the Penguins played the Blues.
Unlike the Americans and Canadians, Team Russia will work with five-player units — three forwards and two defensemen — at the Olympics. Malkin and Ovechkin will not be two-thirds of a line but rather two-fifths of a group.
Still, the spotlight will follow them most often.
Tarasenko, 22, admitted he is among a group of young Russians that idolize Ovechkin, 28, and Malkin, 27. That would make sense given their success since the Capitals and Penguins selected Ovechkin and Malkin 1-2 at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Ovechkin was Rookie of the Year in 2006. Malkin won it the next year. Since then, they have combined to win three scoring titles and four MVPs — five if counting Malkin's playoff award in 2009.
No NHL player has scored more goals than Ovechkin since he entered the league. Only four players have recorded more assists than Malkin in his eight seasons.
They are not the best of friends, though Ovechkin insisted Wednesday their relationship “is fine.” That may have something to do with what Ovechkin envisions happening on the bigger international ice surface at the Olympics.
“He's a great passer. He can control the puck well,” Ovechkin said of Malkin. “I'm the kind of guy who likes to shoot the puck, so ...”
Malkin said he and Ovechkin expect to face opponents' top defensive pairings at the Olympics, and that should happen in Russia's second game against the United States.
Team USA is coached by Dan Bylsma, who has deployed Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin as a defense pairing against Ovechkin in Penguins-Capitals games the past two seasons. Orpik and Martin are American Olympians, and they also practice against Malkin.
Orpik said earlier this month that he would relish the challenge to form an Olympic shutdown pairing with Martin. Of course, some challenges are more daunting than others.
“Well, those are two pretty special players,” Orpik said of Malkin and Ovechkin. “I don't think you can realistically expect to shut them down as much as maybe not let them beat you.
“On that ice, in their country, they are going to be ready.”