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Russian coach calls out Alex Ovechkin after Olympic elimination

Dmitry Chesnokov
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SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19: Alexander Ovechkin #8 of Russia watches from the bench during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff against Finland on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia – It sure wasn’t long before the shots were fired against Alex Ovechkin after Russia crashed out of the Sochi Olympics, losing in the quarterfinals against Finland, 3-1.

”Tough to explain the loss, of course, why scored so little. Players who score so many goals for their clubs, like Alex Ovechkin who scored 40 goals for his club [didn’t score]… Right now I cannot explain that.”

Slow clap. These words came from no other than Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, the Russian head coach. Someone who has known Alex Ovechkin since he was still wearing a full mask playing for Dynamo.

If the Russian team has lived up to its stereotypes, the “Blame Ovechkin” stereotype started before the Zambonis started circling around the ice of the Bolshoy Ice Dome ahead of the next quarterfinal game in Sochi. But I don’t think anyone expected it would come from the reserved Russian head coach Zinetulla Bilyaletdinov.

The obsession with blaming Ovechkin seems to have made it across the ocean and soaked through to the most unlikely person.

It was 10 years ago that Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were paired together for the first time for the national team. The game was a quarter final of the World Junior Championships. Finland was the opponent. The result was the loss. Throughout the years the two have played together a number of times, with no certain results. Why didn’t the coach split the two when he saw the tandem wasn’t working?

“I thought about it a lot. But there are certain things that… I can’t talk about.”

The pause in Bilyaletdinov’s reply sounded odd that he had to explain it. “Nothing and no one has pressured me to keep them together.”

There was a time in Wednesday’s loss to finally make that change and pair Ovechkin with Pavel Datsyuk to shake things up and give Ovechkin another center to get passes from. Perhaps there would have been more passes to him, which would mean more goals. If only.

A question about the coach’s utilization of Ovechkin on the power play is another “look in the mirror” moments for Bilyaletdinov. The point wasn’t working for Ovechkin, neither was being the screen in the crease. The right side also didn’t provide any answers to his goal drought.

Yet Ovechkin was never placed along the left half boards where he has been so deadly for the Washington Capitals for years. If only.

The Washington Capitals star was devastated and sincere in his interview with CBC’s Elliotte Friedman. It was his Olympics. It was his team. He did as much as he could to win. But in the end this is a team game.

The team never got it going. As much as they tried, the firepower was only left on paper, like the blueprint to a great masterpiece that could never be taken from the ground. It is about the entire blueprint, and not one of its pillars.

Maybe because the pillar wasn’t in the right place.

Regardless of what it is, a lot, if not most, of what happens to any masterpiece is its architect.

So, before blaming your players, take a look in the mirror, coach.

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