Alex Ovechkin was playing hockey in Russia again–determined to bring nothing less than golden luster to Vladimir Putin’s international Sochi soire. Why else leave America, where he is among the biggest names in sport, earning $9 million a year in, of all places, Washington, DC? (The same Washingon that is the root of so much Putin consternation.) But the jewel in the Russian sports crown–the men’s hockey team–was ousted by an efficient Finland squad in the quarterfinals. Ovechkin once again failed to score for the home team, having netted a total of one goal during the entire Olympic five-game run. Paradoxically, Ovechkin is the leading scorer in the NHL, which represents a considerably tougher level of competition. (For example, the country against whom Ovechkin scored his sole Olympic goal, Slovenia, has only two players in the NHL.)
The loss to Finland exacerbates the pain of an earlier difficult loss to the US team. And it knocks Russia out of contention for a medal, despite a roster loaded with talented, high-paid stars including Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin. Russian hockey has a long tradition of international success–with stretches of Soviet dominance that made any loss seem a miracle–yet this is the third straight Olympics in which it has failed to medal. The road to Olympic hockey gold now looks wide open, with no home favorite feeling cozy by the Black Sea. Mr. Putin must now look to his figure skaters for gold and glory, their elegance perhaps less the former KGB man’s style–but at least they’re still in the game.