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Datsyuk misses Russia's first practice, coach optimistic he'll play vs. Slovenia

The Canadian Press
The Russian men's ice hockey team runs through a play during a training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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The Russian men's ice hockey team runs through a play during a training session at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

SOCHI, Russia - Pavel Datsyuk didn't take part in Russia's first pre-Olympic practice, but his coach is hopeful his captain will be in the lineup for Thursday's opener against Slovenia.

Datsyuk missed over a month with what the Detroit Red Wings called a lower-body injury, an apparent problem with his left knee. The 35-year-old returned to play two games before the break, skating under 15 minutes in each.

"I don't think it's a serious problem, dangerous," coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said through an interpreter. "I think he's going to be OK."

When Russia took the ice for its team photo at Bolshoy Ice Dome, Datsyuk was front-and-centre. But then he left the ice when his teammates started practice.

Alexander Svitov appeared to be serving as a place-holder for Datsyuk during line rushes, doing them between Alexander Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk did not express much concern about Datsyuk's absence.

"I think he'll be good before the first game," he said. "I think tomorrow everybody's going to skate."

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland wasn't worried about Datsyuk not practising, saying given the injury the star centre will probably be given future opportunities to rest even after the Olympics.

Evgeni Malkin centred Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin in Russia's first practice. All three goalies were on the ice, and Sergei Bobrovsky said he did not know what the starting plans were between him and Semyon Varlamov.

POILE WON'T BE IN SOCHI

U.S. general manager David Poile will not be travelling to Sochi after suffering facial injuries last week from being struck by a puck during a morning skate.

Assistant Ray Shero will serve as acting general manager in Russia, while Poile will still be watching games and overseeing the program from Nashville.

"Disappointing for David and his family and disappointing for us that he can't be here, but obviously still the general manager of this hockey team," Shero said. "Looking forward to his continued development and still the general manager of this team. We'll keep the seat warm here."

Shero said Poile left the hospital in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday and went back to Nashville where he'll undergo further testing.

"He'll continue to have great care down in Nashville," Shero said. "So hopefully it's a step in the right direction where he has hopefully healing and so forth. But it's just way too much too soon for him to travel."

SELANNE IN PRIME SPOT FOR FINLAND

Teemu Selanne only has 20 points in 47 games for the Anaheim Ducks, but he'll start the Olympics as Finland's captain and top-line right wing, according to assistant coach Lauri Marjamaki.

"Of course he is our top player and he's so motivated," Marjamaki said. "He's in pretty good condition. ... He's an important player for us."

The 43-year-old Selanne missed Finland's practice Monday because his flight from the United States landed late. When he's on the ice Tuesday, he'll be on a line with Mikael Granlund and Aleksander Barkov.

Finland has had to change its plans given recent injuries to centres Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu. Sakari Salminen and Jarkko Immonen replaced them on the roster.

"Obviously they're two of their top players, they were tough losses for us the last couple of days to lose both guys," forward Jussi Jokinen said. "But it's nothing we should concentrate on anymore. We have good players here. We have to find a way to a tough team to play against, rely on our goaltending and team defence, and be good on special teams. That will lead to success here."

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