BRATISLAVA – Ilya Kovalchuk has been here before. He was on the Olympic team that lost to Canada in the Vancouver Olympics, he was on the World Championship that beat Canada at the Worlds last year. He was on the team that beat Canada in the World Championship final in 2009, and he scored the game-winning goal in the 2008 final – against Canada.
In Bratislava, the Russian machine hasn’t been a machine at all. It’s got a 3-3 record in its first six games, having lost to Germany, Finland, and the Czech Republic, with wins over Slovenia, Denmark, and Slovakia, all teams who didn’t make the quarter-finals.
And Kovalchuk himself has five points in six games, all assists. Two against Slovenia, three in the game against Slovakia.
But he’s been there before, too. At the 2008 World Championship in Quebec City, Kovalchuk only scored two goals in the tournament. The first one came with 5:14 remaining in the third period of the final against Canada, and sent the game into overtime. His second came at 2:42 into overtime, and ended the game.
The quarter-final against Canada would be a good time for Kovalchuk to get his first goal of this tournament.
"I haven’t scored a goal yet and I know people expect me to produce offensively," he said, after practice on Wednesday.
"We haven’t played our perfect game yet. We can get better at everything. We’ve faced good teams like the Czech Republic and Finland and they’ve showed us that we have to get much better to win," he said.
Canada, in turn, has yet to be beaten in the tournament. It had to go to a penalty shootout in its game against Switzerland, and overtime to get a win over the U.S. but it got them.
"I face their players a lot [in the NHL] so I know that they’ve got a lot of skill and character on the team," said Kovalchuk.
"We know they’re a great team, the rivalry is great. It’s too bad we’re facing them at a quarter-final, but we have to go through them at some point if we want to win [a gold medal] here. That’s what’s great about hockey. We’re ready," he added.
While Kovalchuk led his team in scoring in both the 2009 and the 2010 tournaments – he was also the tournament’s leading scorer in 2010 – with 14 and 12 points in nine games, respectively, in Bratislava, Russia has got its goals from a wider group of players. The team’s leading scorer is Danis Zaripov with six points in six games. His linemate Sergei Zinoviev is tied with Kovalchuk with five, and Alexei Morozov, Alexander Radulov, and Ilya Nikulin have collected four points in six games.
"[Zaripov and Zinoviev] are really good players, and they're really great especially on the big ice surface. They’ve played together for a long time and are huge part of our team," Kovalchuk said.
But there’s a lot of unused potential on the Russian team. One is Kovalchuk himself. And then there’s Alexander Ovechkin who’s still without points after two games.
When asked if Russia is better now with Ovechkin on the team, Kovalchuk took to verbal jujitsu.
"Russia is better with anybody," he said, smiling.
Whether it was just a funny quip, remains to be seen.