SOCHI, Russia — The Russians are resting Pavel Datsyuk, hoping he’ll be healthy enough to play in their Sochi Games opener.
Russia practiced Monday afternoon — for the first time since NHL players arrived– and Datsyuk was the only skater not on the ice.
The Detroit Red Wings have said Datsyuk has a lower-body injury. That kept him out of the lineup for more than a month before he returned to play sparingly in Detroit’s last two games before the Olympic break.
Datsyuk’s ailment appears to be an injured left knee.
"I don’t think it’s a serious problem, dangerous," Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said through an interpreter. "I think he’s going to be OK."
Asked if the team’s captain would play in its first game against Slovenia on Thursday, Bilyaletdinov replied in English, "I hope."
The Russians, though, may opt to rest Datsyuk for the relatively meaningless game against Slovenia to give him more time to heal before Saturday’s showdown against the U.S.
At the 2006 Olympics, Sweden’s Peter Forsberg sat out Sweden’s first two games because of a groin injury after missing Philadelphia’s final eight games before the break. He returned for one game in the preliminary round, missed the next one and then came back to help the Swedes win gold.
Even if Datsyuk is not 100 percent healthy, teammate Alex Ovechkin said the forward will be able to help the host country at both ends of the ice.
"I think it doesn’t matter if he’s going to be healthy or if he’s going to be in not that good shape," Ovechkin said. "He’s still Datsyuk. He still make unbelievable plays and he still play well on D, defensive zone and offensive zone."
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, who is part of Canada’s management team, said he doesn’t fault Datsyuk for pushing himself to play in the Olympics even if it affects his ability to play for the NHL franchise that is paying him.
"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Holland said. "In his hockey lifetime, the Olympics will never be in Russia (again). He’s the captain. He’s probably been preparing for this two-week tournament five, six years ago when it was announced that it was coming to Russia."
Canada’s general manager Steve Yzerman, who played in the 2002 Olympics with a knee injury, said the chance to play in the Olympics is too good to pass up, even for banged-up players.
And after playing with Datsyuk in Detroit, Yzerman knows how good he is offensively with the puck, and how good he is defensively at taking it away from opponents.
"He still remains one of the greatest all-around players in the game," Yzerman said.