This will be the third Olympic games for Markov and first for Emelin. Markov was a member of the Russian team that was thrashed 7-3 by Canada in the quarterfinal four year ago in Vancouver during the 2010 games. Markov was also on the Russian team that shutout Canada 2-0 in the quarterfinal of the 2006 tournament before losing in the semifinal and coming home empty handed after being blanked in the Bronze Medal Game by the Czech Republic.
Russia took home medals the first two times NHL players played in the Olympics, winning silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002, but have been kept off the podium since. They have a great chance to return to the top three this year on home soil in Sochi. They have arguably the best group of forwards in the tournament and can rely on reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky to keep the puck out of their net.
Their biggest question mark lies on the blue line, where the pair of Canadiens will be counted on to play a huge role in Russia satisfying their home fans. Markov is unquestionably the best defenseman on the team, and it goes without saying he may be most comfortable if paired with Emelin who he often plays with in Montreal.
Aside from the Habs duo, Russia’s blue line also features a pair of Blue Jackets in Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin as well as Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oiler Anton Belov. They are also bringing a pair of defenders from the KHL in Evgeny Medvedev and Ilya Nikulin.
With superstars Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Radulov and so on capable of leading the offense, it is these defenders that will be the key to Russia being able to hear their anthem in front of their home crowd when the tournament wraps up next Sunday.
Markov has six points in his twelve game Olympic career and will be counted on to quarterback the power play this year. He is the leading scorer amongst Russian NHLers with 31 points this season and will be running quite an impressive extra man unit in this tournament. Considering Kovalchuk often played the point on the PP when he was in the NHL, he will likely play opposite Markov, with Ovechkin, Datsyuk and Malkin up front. 16 of Markov’s 31 points with Montreal have come on the PP and he has an opportunity to light up the scoresheet playing with the elite talent on this Russian roster.
Emelin may play alongside Markov at even strength but he will be kept away from the PP. He will be counted on to be a physical presence and play the penalty kill with Tyutin. The Columbus defenseman is a very underrated shutdown player in the NHL, and Bobrovsky will be comfortable having a familiar face clearing the crease for him.
This may be Emelin’s first Olympic Games but it is far form the first time he is representing Russia. Emelin has suited up in four World Championships in the past for Russia, finishing fourth, and winning all three medals, including a gold medal in 2012. He also won a pair of silver medals at the World Junior Championships in 2005 and 2006.
Russia are in Group A with the United States, Slovakia and Slovenia. They start off their schedule tomorrow against the 12th ranked Slovenians and should be able to pad their stats quite a bit to begin the tournament. Slovenia’s only NHL player is Anze Kopitar and though he is a great player, there is no one else on his team who can skate with this Russian roster. Russia have a day off Friday, and then have a huge test against the United States on Saturday.
Barring any upsets, this game will decide the winner of Group A and who gets a bye through the Qualification round. On Sunday, Russia wraps up their schedule against Slovakia, who will have a hard time matching Russia’s depth. Yes, the Slovaks have Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa, but injuries to Lubomir Visnovsky and Marian Gaborik have crippled any semblance of depth Slovakia may have once had.
Russia will be the most fun team to watch at this event thanks to their jaw dropping talent up front. They are also set in goal with Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov ready to take over if Bobrovsky falters.
The only question on this roster is on their back end, and it will be up to a pair of Habs to answer those questions. Markov is going to have to be an unquestioned number one defenseman on this team, and match up against the best players in the world if Russia is going to live up to their lofty expectations.
Emelin will play a lesser role than Markov, but if he finds himself with his regular partner, Emelin will have to step his game up a notch or else the Russians could allow a touchdown like they did in the Quarters four years ago.
Russia’s defense does not have to be excellent in order to win this tournament, but they can’t afford to have a defender not pulling his weight either. If Emelin and Markov play up to their potential, Russia will win their first gold medal since the fall of the Soviet Union.