Monday night’s World Cup of Hockey match-up featured teams with two very different mindsets. Team Russia put up a valiant effort in a comeback attempt versus Sweden in their first game, but what looked like the tying goal from Alex Ovechkin, with just seconds remaining, was disallowed after a review determined he had knocked it in with his hand. Russia came away with a loss, and was desperate to get a win versus the under-24 entrant.
At the other end stood a young, fast, skilled North American squad bolstered by the confidence of already having a win under their belt from their first contest with Finland the previous night.
Both teams came out of the gate ready to play, and traded rushes in the early moments of the game. Ovechkin attempted one such rush by trying to stickhandle his way around several opposition players, but Auston Matthews easily dispossessed him of the puck, and regrouped for a rush up ice.
The puck was sent up the right-side boards to Connor McDavid, and he exploded up the wing, blowing by an overwhelmed Pavel Datsyuk in the process. McDavid’s speed created a two-on-one, Matthews drove to the net to take a cross-crease pass from his teammate, and tapped it in behind Sergei Bobrovsky for his first goal of the tournament.
Ref cam of McDavid —> Matthews is mesmerizing pic.twitter.com/MZMfpj3S1p— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) September 20, 2016
The Russians regained their composure quickly and began to put pressure on their foes, hemming the North Americans in their own end on a shift soon afterward. Despite looking a bit shaky and giving up some unnecessary rebounds, Matt Murray was able to turn the chances aside while his skaters recovered.
They did get back up to speed, but their inexperience was evident on a three-on-one later in the period. The puck-carrier had options to his left and right from the high slot, but took too long to make his decision and was caught from behind. North America still got a decent chance out of it, but they lost a golden opportunity to get a two-goal lead.
The game slowed down considerably as both teams got into penalty trouble, starting at the end of first period and carrying over to the second, with neither team able to get anything going offensively with a man advantage.
Once the string of penalties came to end, it was Russia that found their legs, and once again controlled the possession on successive offensive rushes. Namestnikov got in alone on the goalie, sent a low shot on goal, and Murray’s rebound control finally got the best of him. He kicked the puck right back out to the slot, and Namestnikov knocked the puck off the post and off the skate of the sprawling netminder to tie the game.
Russia didn’t let up, and two shifts later got a lead right off an offensive-zone face-off win. A friendly bounce off an attempted clearance sent the puck right to Nikita Kucherov at the side of the net, and he batted it in to make the score 2-1 just 50 seconds after their first tally.
Evgeny Kuznetsov continued the onslaught, skating the puck around Morgan Rielly, and beating the goaltender short side. Murray’s night came to end soon afterward, when he got pulled after the 4-1 goal from Vladimir Tarasenko .
The goalie change re-ignited Team North America, and an extended period of offensive-zone time finally resulted in a great look for Rielly. His wrist shot beat Bobrovsky to the far side to breathe new life into the contest.
An unnecessary penalty from Evgeni Malkin gave the young guns a chance early in the third, and their skill went to work. The team was buzzing around the offensive zone with several great scoring chances before the puck finally fell onto the stick of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to reduce to deficit to one goal with most of the final period remaining.
North America got another chance at a power play midway through the frame, but were a bit more hesitant to let their shots loose in the pressure of a one-goal game. Ultimately, the opportunity was cut short by a too-many-men penalty as the team tried to keep the attack going.
Alexei Emelin halted one offensive push right in its tracks, getting everything he had into a massive bodycheck on Jack Eichel.
The North Americans put the pressure on in the final two minutes with the goalie pulled, and got one last chance to tie things up with a late man advantage. Despite some great chances and a shot off the post, they couldn’t complete the comeback, and fell by a score of 4-3.
Each team now has one goal and one loss, and are still in the hunt for a spot in the semi-finals.
- For the first time since they were constructed, the young North American defence was given a strong test, and they didn’t fare well under the constant pressure of the Russian attack. On several occasions they were chasing the puck, not aware of their positioning, or screening the goaltender in an effort to stick to their man. It was assumed that the defence would be the weakest aspect of the team, and now other teams will know that it can be exploited in future games.
- There is a lot of skill on the Russian side, and it really comes to the fore when they decide to work as a unit. They had their best success when they were moving the puck around the offensive zone, and yet the majority of the time they prefer to go on individual rushes. You have to think the team would be virtually unstoppable if they could play they way they did during their four-goal outburst for a full 60 minutes.
North America will play its final game of the preliminary round on Wednesday afternoon versus a tough Swedish squad. Russia wraps up the group stage with a match against Finland on Thursday.
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