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Monday, February 10, 2014
Will Pavel Datsyuk be ready?

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

SOCHI, Russia -- Pavel Datsyuk had his equipment on, but it was for team picture purposes only Monday.

The Russian star center left the ice before practice started, once again underlining that he's simply not 100 percent heading into the Olympics.

Any Detroit Red Wings player could have told you that with a suspected knee injury keeping the ubertalented player out more than a month before playing twice before the break.

Luis Suarez and Bacary Sagna
The Russians hope Pavel Datsyuk will be at 100 percent by the time they take the ice.

Through an interpreter, Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said he hoped Datsyuk would be ready.

"I don't think it's a serious problem, dangerous," the coach said. "I think he's going to be OK."

Others concurred.

"I think he'll be good before the first game," said star winger Ilya Kovalchuk. "You know, they just came in a couple hours ago, so some of the equipment not here yet. So it's all those little details. I think tomorrow everybody's going to skate."

Russian fourth-line forward Viktor Tikhonov seemed confident Datsyuk would be ready to play in their opener Thursday against Slovenia.

"I saw him today and he was walking around fine, so I'm pretty sure he's going to be all right to go," said Tikhonov. "He's in good spirits and already cracking jokes around the room."

Alexander Svitov skated between Alexander Radulov and Kovalchuk at practice Monday, which is most likely Datsyuk's spot.

The other powerhouse offensive line has Evgeni Malkin between Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

There's a top six that makes your jaw drop.

Ovechkin was all smiles after practice Monday, looking relaxed in his home country.

"It's a great feeling," said the Washington Capitals superstar. "Of course, it's a huge honor for me to represent my country and I'm pretty sure every athlete who is representing your country at an Olympic Games. It's huge, but right now it's something special."

Finns Forge On

Crushed by the 11th-hour injury losses of top forwards Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula, the Finns understand how they'll need to survive if they have any chance in this tournament.

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

In other words, they need to win 1-0 or 2-1. They need to play Jacques Lemaire defensive hockey.

"Obviously, we're not going to be favorites in this tournament; we're going to be underdogs. That's just fine with us," said Jokinen. "We have great goaltending. Obviously, a lot of the other countries have star power, but we like our team and we like our team game. That's what we have to bring every night."

Ollie's Back

Winnipeg Jets center Olli Jokinen announced in Vancouver four years ago that it was his Olympic swan song.

Oops.

Here he is again playing for Finland.

"True," he said laughing Monday after his team's practice. "You know what? Four years ago, I was never even thinking that I would play hockey this long. At that time, I thought it would be maybe one year or two years that I've been playing. But I've been able to stay healthy, and I've kind of found a new passion of playing.

"Playing in Calgary under Brent [Sutter], he kind of gave me a new life over there. I had a pretty tough go there in New York end of the year that year. Hockey wasn't that much fun. Then went back to Calgary and really enjoyed the hockey again."

Finland coach Erkka Westerlund, who also led the 2006 Olympic team, asked Jokinen if we would consider one more Games appearance.

"I was never expecting that call to happen," Jokinen said. "He asked if he could put me on the long list of the players ... and I thought about it for a couple weeks and called him back and told him, 'Yeah, you can put me on that list.' It kind of gave me motivation to have a good start to the season.

"Obviously, it's an honor to play for Team Finland. This is a tough team to make. We've got a lot of good players playing in North America and a lot of good players playing overseas here. I'm happy and honored that I was able to make this team. I can't wait to start playing."

This time, though, Jokinen promises not to make any big proclamations after the tournament.

"We were laughing on the way here in the flight, me and [Kimmo] Timonen were laughing: 'Here we go again.' I guess this time it's better to zip it up and not say anything. Because you never know."

Good Digs

Sharks netminder Antti Niemi had prepared himself for the worst after hearing stories out of Sochi before traveling here Monday.

Turns out, he's quite happy with his digs.

"I thought it was pretty nice," Niemi said of Finland's accommodations. "Especially having read something not so nice about what it could be. So I thought it was pretty nice."

It's two beds to a room, and Niemi's roommate is Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen.

"Yeah, that's going to be interesting," Niemi said with a chuckle.

We asked Russian defenseman Anton Belov about the host country's digs, and the Oilers player revealed that, except for a few youngsters, most of the players had rooms to themselves.

Host team benefits!