TORONTO — Training camps are over and the games are almost here. It’s decision time for all eight teams at the World Cup of Hockey.
Sergei Bobrovsky will start in goal for Russia’s opener Sunday against Sweden, earning the nod over Semyon Varlamov. Coach Oleg Znarok said Bobrovsky is the starter for now and after that, “we’ll see.”
Bobrovsky, the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner, knows he has to excel to keep a grip on the job.
“Obviously it’s an honor to be the guy who’s going to start the tournament,” Bobrovsky said Thursday. “He’s a great goalie. It was a good challenge, but we both know that only one is going to play.”
Bobrovsky had the inside track when Znarok gave him the net for the final exhibition game against Canada on Wednesday. He has impressed his coaches and teammates during the entire pre-tournament phase.
“In the games that he played for us so far, he’s been outstanding, knowing that even if you make a mistake he can make that save,” defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said. “It makes you play with more confidence and create turnovers sometimes in the neutral zone that helps your offense.”
Sweden still has some time to decide if center Marcus Kruger will be ready to return from an upper-body injury, but he’s expected to play after practicing Thursday.
With most teams relatively healthy following exhibition action, the next difficult job for coaches is deciding on healthy scratches. Znarok, U.S. coach John Tortorella and Canadian coach Mike Babcock might’ve already figured that out, but they’re not saying.
Tortorella said Brandon Dubinsky got an exhibition game off and expects the Blue Jackets forward to be in the lineup Saturday against Team Europe, possibly playing center on a team that lacks depth down the middle.
Canada has plenty of centers and quality defensemen, so someone has to be scratched. Up front it’s down to either Corey Perry, Claude Giroux or Ryan O’Reilly being out of the lineup, while Jake Muzzin of the Los Angeles Kings looks like the odd man out on the blue line.
Babcock said the lineup is pretty much set in his mind with an announcement coming tomorrow. Canada’s successful defensive pairs of Jay Bouwmeester with Drew Doughty, Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo with Brent Burns have helped Babcock’s decision process.
“Coming in we didn’t know who was going to be paired with who, but it seems like the pairs have been working,” Doughty said. “The first game we gave (up) a few too many goals, but after that we’ve settled in and it looks like we know who we’re going to be playing with now. Everyone’s comfortable, all three pairs are moving the puck well and playing well defensively.”
Some decisions will have to wait. Finland will likely start Pekka Rinne in goal Sunday against the Czech Republic, which hasn’t made a call between Michal Neuvirth and Petr Mrazek.
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