Team USA-Russia Thoughts: Do You Believe in T.J. Oshie?

Doc Emrick finished the USA-Russia broadcast by saying, “Many people paid many rubles hoping to see the home team win. Not tonight.” And it was night in Sochi by the time T.J. Oshie finished off Russia, but back in the U.S. it was still early in the morning and the perfect start to the day.

To continue the perfect start to the day, like I did on Thursday, here are the Thoughts from the game.

– Ryan Callahan played the exact type of game that has people questioning why the Rangers would want to trade their captain in the middle of a season in which they are fighting for a playoff berth. Callahan sacrificed his body (including burying Ovechkin from behind), mucked it up in the corners and seemed to be involved in the play every shift throughout the game. It must have made non-Rangers fans laugh at the idea that Glen Sather is actively seeking a trade for him.

– Blake Wheeler is barely on Team USA and barely in the lineup, but there he was turning the puck over in the neutral zone and then taking a tripping penalty to make up for his turnover halfway through the first period to give Russia’s dangerous power play an early chance. I’m going to guess that that’s not the way to increase your already small amount of playing time or ensure your spot in the lineup for the rest of the tournament.

– As for Russia’s power play, their main power play featured a combination of Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evegeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov and it was unimpressive for the options they had. Datsyuk’s second goal was a power-play goal, but Russia finished the game 1-for-6 on the power play and several times had trouble setting up in the USA zone and struggled to get shots. When you have two guys like Ovechkin and Malkin both looking for the big one-timer and two guys like Kovalchuk and Datsyuk both trying to control the play and tempo, is it possible that Russia has too many offensive weapons for the the man-advantage?

– The Russian fans made the game from a TV-watching perspective have the feel of a game with special magnitude. Even if the constant horns made it sound like a Tampa Bay Rays home game or vuvuzelas at the World Cup, the crowd made the environment hostile for Team USA and their noise levels when Russia carried the puck into the offensive zone was Stanley Cup-esque.

– I miss watching Ilya Kovalchuk on a regular basis. I’m sure if I really wanted I could still watch Kovalchuk on a regular basis if I wanted to wake up early and put my computer at risk by accessing some sketchy website that streams KHL games if you answer some survey questions and close 29 pop-up windows. As a Rangers fan, I don’t miss watching Kovalchuk the New Jersey Devil beat the Rangers, but as a hockey fan, he was entertaining and one of the best pure scorers in the league. Here’s what I said about him in the Rangers-Devils email exchange from the Stadium Series:

To me, Kovalchuk was always the most underrated superstar in the league. With 108 goals by the age of 21 after his first three years in the league, following the 2003-04 season it seemed like Kovalchuk would be one of the premier names in the league for well over the next decade. But after the lockout, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin emerged, took over as the faces of the league and Kovalchuk was pushed aside and somewhat forgotten about because of the other two and because of where he played.

In the shootout, Kovalchuk made it look easy against Jonathan Quick. His first goal was effortless and his second goal was almost a joke as he pulled Quick to the left (Quick’s right) and casually flipped the puck back across Quick, which could have been the game-winning shootout goal if T.J. Oshie didn’t exist.

You would think that playing with fellow Russians who still play in the NHL and against players he spent a decade playing against that he would miss the North American game. But if anyone doesn’t, it’s the guy who left 12 years and $77 million to return home. Maybe we’ll get to see him play against Team USA one more time in these Olympics, if not, maybe we’ll see him in four years in South Korea.

– When Pavel Datsyuk splits your defense (in this case, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik) and then scores on your Conn Smythe goalie, all you can do is shake your head and laugh. So that’s what I did.

– You have to love the Russian chants of “Shaybu!” which Doc said loosely translates to “Go get the puck.” What do the fans think the players are trying to do? We can relate to this here in the States where we have fans at games using their voices to repeatedly yell “Shoot!” at players on the power play no matter where the puck is or what kind of angle the player with possession has. But imagine everyone at Madison Square Garden repeatedly yelling “Go get the puck!” “Go get the puck!” “Go get the puck!”

– When NBC showed Russia’s coach for the first time and the graphic with his name, I wondered how much it would suck to have his name: Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. That’s eight letters for the first name and 13 for the last name for a total of 21 letters. As Neil Keefe (nine total letters), I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to write Zinetula Bilyaletdinov or to even remember it.

– It was weird to see Mike Babcock, Claude Julien, Lindy Ruff, Steve Yzerman, Peter Chiarelli and Doug Armstrong all together watching USA-Russia even though they are all part of Team Canada, but it wasn’t weird to see everyone laughing and having a good time except for Chiarelli who has never not been serious in his life.

– I have never been a Fedor Tyutin fan. Never. Not for a second. Not when he was drafted by the Rangers, on the Hartford Wolf Pack or when he finally made it to New York. I think I was happier when he was traded to Columbus before the 2008-09 season than when Michael Del Zotto was traded this season. So of course it was Tyutin who almost beat Team USA because that’s how things work out. But thankfully he didn’t.

– At the time of the disallowed Russia goal, I couldn’t believe that call was made. Not because the call went against Russia in Russia with Vladimir Putin in attendance, which seems like it should be enough for the call to stand, but because as an NHL fan, there wasn’t a high-stick and the puck clearly hit the back bar. The problem was that everyone on the NBC broadcast also happens to be trained to judge reviewed goals by NHL standards and weren’t aware of the net being slightly off its mooring. Once the international rule was eventually explained, the replayed showed Quick instantly showing the refs that the net was dislodged and without Quick pointing that out, maybe that goal doesn’t get reviewed and Russia wins and T.J. Oshie isn’t a legend.

– But T.J. Oshie is a legend. Oshie took six of the eight Team USA shootout attempts and scored on four of the six against Sergei Bobrovsky, who just happens to be the defending Vezina winner. There wasn’t a serious hockey fan who had ever heard the name T.J. Oshie prior to the shootout and if you has asked a random person if T.J. Oshie is a congressman from Minnesota, the CEO of Ford, an NHL player on the St. Louis Blues or the bass player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, there’s no way they would have known. But when you beat the reigning Vezina winner, the face of hockey in Russia and the KHL and the captain of Russia in a shootout and seal the win for the latest chapter of USA-Russia hockey, everyone will know who you are.