Off The Draw...
Right to the very end, Viktor Tikhonov was focused on the success of Russian hockey.
“He devoted his entire life to hockey until the last second,” Vladislav Tretiak, the former goalie for the Soviet national team, told Russia’s R-sport on Monday. “Even when I was with him in hospital, we were discussing what needed to be done and how, in order to raise the Russian national team to the very highest level.”
The mastermind behind many of Russia’s greatest hockey triumphs died on Monday in Moscow after a long illness. He was 84.
In his prime, Tikhonov was the embodiment of Russian hockey—stoic and ruthless. He worked the Soviet Union’s corrupt system expertly, seizing the players he wanted for his team and controlling them with an authoritarian grip. He maintained power over his players by training them for 11 months a year, keeping them in barracks away from their families and constantly meddling in their private lives. Many players hated him, including Tretiak (who retired early to get away from his coach), forward Igor Larionov and defenseman Slava Fetisov, but Tikhonov led them to the success they craved. His Big Red Machine captured three Olympic gold medals (1984, ’88 and ’92), eight world championships, the ’79 Challenge Cup and the ’81 Canada Cup. Tikhonov also led the mighty Central Red Army team to 13 consecutive Soviet league titles from ’77 to ’89).
His remarkable legacy earned him induction into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998. It’s unfortunate then that in North America he’ll forever be remembered for his failures.
Tikhonov was behind the bench when the heavily favored Soviets had to settle for the silver medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid after a stunning loss to the U.S. in the semifinals. Although much has been made about the heroic spirit of the underdog Americans and the Miracle on Ice, the game likely would have had a different result if not for the arrogance of the Russian players and their coach.
Aside from his team’s flawed preparation, Tikhonov made two critical errors in the stunning upset: pulling Tretiak, arguably the best goalie in the world at the time, at the end of the first period; and failing to go with an extra skater in a bid for the equalizing goal while trailing 4–3 in the final minute of play. Both decisions revealed a man ill-prepared to adapt his approach to the challenges of the game.
In Canada, Tikhonov will also be remembered for his inexplicable decision to leave Fetisov and defense partner Alexei Kasatonov on the bench instead of sending them out against Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the dying moments of the 1987 Canada Cup finale. With Igor Kravchuk his backside, Gretzky dropped a pass into the high slot where Lemieux, who was all alone, scored one of the most famous goals in Canadian history.
And again, in the final minute of that game, Tikhonov chose not to pull his goalie.
It wasn't long after the defeat that things began to change. The Russian government began to allow its stars to leave for North America—and given the opportunity they left in droves. The Big Red Machine was effectively dismantled. Tikhonov continued coaching until 2004, but he was never able to put it back together again.
What to watch tonight
Both teams come into this clash looking to reclaim some of their mojo, which has gone missing of late. Pittsburgh was one of hockey’s hottest team's heading into the weekend, but dropped both ends of a home-and-home series with the Islanders. The loss of Pascal Dupuis (blood clot) has brought the Penguins’ lack of depth at forward to the forefront and forced the recall of Jayson Megna. He’s been a solid player in the AHL this season, but has never managed to stake a claim to a full-time job at this level despite several opportunities. This might be the best one he gets.
Boston has won eight of 11, but its success is deceiving. Only one of those wins came against a team currently in playoff position, and while the Bruins can't do anything about the schedule they do have to start finding a way to beat legitimate competition. They blew their last opportunity in a 2–0 loss to the Canadiens on Saturday, so Pittsburgh presents a challenge that they can’t afford to fail. No telling yet who will be in the lineup for the B’s. They went with five rookies Saturday and the inexperience showed. That could be the way the go again on Monday night, although there’s a possibility that one of their injured forwards could return. If not, look for 2014 first-rounder David Pastrnak to make his NHL debut.
Flyers at Islanders (7 p.m. EST; TCN-PH, MSG+)
Make that the Flyers at the first-place Islanders. Eight wins in their last nine games, including that weekend sweep of the Penguins, has vaulted the Isles into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the Metropolitan Division.
New York is making it happen at both ends of the ice. Jaroslav Halak, one of the best additions made by any team this offseason, has a 1.31 goals-against average and two shutouts during his current six-game winning streak. He’s been getting plenty of support from an offense that's averaging 3.2 goals per game, third in the league behind only the Penguins and the Lightning. Ryan Strome, a first-rounder in 2011, has emerged as a solid contributor, with seven points in his last six games, including a three-point effort in a 5–4 win over Pittsburgh on Friday.
Philadelphia comes into this matchup having lost four straight games away from the cozy confines of the Wells Fargo Center—and facing a stretch in which they’ll play seven of eight on the road. The Flyers are as close to a playoff spot as they are to the Eastern Conference cellar, and so they need to find some traction on this trip. They could find it between the pipes, where Steve Mason is 4-2-0 with a 2.20 GAA in his last six after leading Philly to a win over the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
What you missed last night
• The rested Ducks squeaked past the Coyotes (highlights) but Anaheim defenseman Clayton Stoner may be the latest NHL player to fall victim to the mumps.
The numbers game
• One-quarter of the way through the season, 60.8% of all games played have been tied or within one goal entering the third period; and 26 of the league’s 30 teams are within six points of a playoff berth.
• Andrei Markov is now the fourth defenseman in Montreal’s storied history to score 100 career goals. The Canadiens, meanwhile, have won 16 of their first 23 games for the first time since 1959–60.
• The Islanders’ 14 wins ties the franchise record for the most victories through the first 20 games of a season. The mark was set and equaled in 1976–77 (14-3-3), ’78-79: (14-3-3) and ’87-88 (14-5-1).
• Former NHLer Murray Oliver passed away recently. Patrick Reusse offers this fond remembrance.
• The Avalanche believed Reto Berra could find his game under goaltender coach Francois Allaire. He's yet to reward the team’s faith ... and that is becoming a problem.