Who loves Russians? I hope you do because there's a gaggle of them in tonight's game, although unfortunately one of them will most likely be out. Let's take a look:
#7 / Defenseman / Florida Panthers
Oct 29, 1990
Dmitry Kulikov is probably my 2nd favorite young defenseman in the league after Drew Doughty. He plays shutdown minutes, he can score, he can hit, he can pretty much do everything. Oh, and he just turned 21. Kid is awesome. Unfortunately, he took a deep cut on the leg in Florida's last game so it's not looking likely that he'll play tonight. Still, you should watch him some time because he is great. He's been paired with Mike Weaver* all season and the two have formed a fearsome shutdown pairing.
*It's weird that Mike Weaver couldn't beat out Kevin Dallman for a spot on the Kings back in 06-07 and then he inexplicably turned into this amazing defensive defenseman after he left. Well, I guess it's not that weird; Kevin Dallman is the KHL's best defenseman, after all.
I actually really like Florida's defense overall. They have a great offensive player in Brian Campbell, a great defensive player in Weaver, 2 elite young defenders in Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson, a solid all-round guy just coming into his own in Jason Garrison, and then the old goat Ed Jovanovski to dispense wisdom. They also have Keaton Ellerby, who is... a guy. The defense is solidly built and should grow into something special in the next few years. I'm jealous. Of the Florida Panthers. Huh.
#63 / Right Wing / Florida Panthers
Mar 12, 1989
This kid? Also awesome. What can I say? I love Russians. Apparently the SBNation picture guy doesn't love him, though. Hopefully he'll play, although he gets benched every so often because he's Russian.
#48 / Center / Los Angeles Kings
May 30, 1990
Oh Loki, I want so badly for you to play well. I feel like the Kings do too; they want to move Stoll to wing but they need Loktionov to knock down the door, so to speak. They're going to give him easy minutes tonight and put him with one of the Kings' most creative forwards in Justin Williams. He needs to create a goal to give Dean Lombardi a reason not to send him down when Dustin Penner comes back. You can do it, Loki!
#26 / Defenseman / Los Angeles Kings
Jan 15, 1990
Speaking of giving Dean Lombardi a reason to keep him up, I don't see how the Kings could possibly send Voynov down when Alec Martinez gets healthy. Voynov isn't just in the line-up, he's basically stolen Jack Johnson's minutes at even-strength; last game, Voynov played 16:20 to Johnson's 12 minutes. He deserves it, too, the kid is great. I've been surprised how good he is defensively and I think a lot of it stems from how he's able to gain the puck and create opportunities for the Kings to get it out of the zone. He's greater than I even imagined!
Oh God, imagine a Kulikov-Voynov pairing in Sochi. I would die.
Prediction: Kings win, 3-1. Goals by Loktionov (x2) and Voynov. They celebrate in their customary way: