Team Russia took on the young superstars of Team North America tonight in the second Preliminary game for both teams.
North America was coming in hot off of a win against Finland on Sunday, and Russia came in off of a loss against Team Sweden where Caps forward Alex Ovechkin nearly tied it up with seconds left in the third period. The Russian team had some desperation in their step to try to get two points against their Western opponents, but they would have to rely on their powerful offense against the North Americans. Team North America would be tested against high point scorers like Malkin, Tarasenko, and Ovechkin, but the Russians would have to defend against young superstars such as McDavid, Eichel, and Matthews. Despite Aaron Ekblad sitting out with an undisclosed upper body injury that he sustained against Komarov, the Russians would be tested against the talented North Americans.
Early in the first period, team North America scored just after their powerplay ended. Connor McDavid broke out of the Russian zone, beating Pavel Datsyuk in a footrace to the puck, and creating a two-on-one opportunity against team Russia. McDavid carried the puck into the zone and passed it across the crease to Auston Matthews, avoiding Alexei Emelin’s stick. Matthews tapped the puck in just past Sergei Bobrovski’s right pad, giving North America the lead early in the first period. Andrei Markov got caught up ice after pinching in from the point, and the Russian forwards were at the end of their shift, giving the North Americans a heavy advantage on the play.
The first period of the game was defined by North America’s speed, leading to several odd-man-break attempts against the Russians. North America was playing well defensively against the Russians, clearing the net and blocking shots well. Both teams struggled with pass completions, but the passing game was easily won by the North Americans. If it weren’t for a flubbed possession by Dylan Larkin on a three-on-one, and a great follow-up save by Bobrovski 12 minutes into the game, it could’ve easily been a 2-0 game at the end of the first period.
Early in the second period, Connor McDavid displayed his magic again by dangling through the Russian defense, almost setting up Auston Matthews for another goal. Shortly after, team Russia drew two back-to-back powerplays. They showed a small glimmer of hope at the beginning of the second powerplay with some offensive zone work, but their passing game and offensive zone cycling was ineffective against the North Americans.
There was a noticeable shift in momentum at the halfway point in the game. A few minutes after their failed powerplays, the Russians had their best scoring chance of the game so far with a Tarasenko shot from Datsyuk, which was saved by Murray. Only a minute later, the North Americans were caught scrambling in their own zone, and the Russians nearly capitalized on another scoring chance. Two minutes later, Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Kucherov both had unassisted goals for team Russia, and all of a sudden it was team Russia’s game.
A small scrum between Nathan MacKinnon and Andrei Markov lead to a four-on-four, which was capitalized on by Evgeny Kuznetsov who scored short side on a one-on-three after going coast to coast.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 20, 2016
Two minutes later, Vladmir Tarasenko scored a turn-around wrist-shot from a pass from Pavel Datsyuk, and the Russians had four consecutive goals on four consecutive shots. Unsurprisingly, goalie Matt Murray was pulled and Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson was put into play.
An eventful second period was made even more so when Morgan Rielly of the Maple Leafs took a wrist-shot from the left point, scoring on Bobrovski who was being screened by his own defense.
The North Americans drew another penalty from Andrei Markov and got more scoring chances on the Russians, making the point that the game was not over yet. The five goal second period ended with another North American scoring chance.
North America easily had the advantage in the first half of the second period, but the Russians quickly answered, taking all of the momentum away from the young team. The experience of the Russian team began to show, and the less tenured North Americans began to let the game get to their heads. Team Russia started completing their passes while the North Americans began breaking down in their own zone and scrambling, but the North Americans finished the period strong with a goal and an active powerplay in the final minute and a half.
Team North America began the third period with the end of the Markov penalty, and quickly got another powerplay after Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau drew a penalty against Evgeni Malkin. The North Americans made quick work of their powerplay, getting seven shots in their powerplay, eventually leading to Edmonton Oiler’s Captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins getting a goal off of his own rebound. Despite Bobrovski’s solid goaltending, the Russian defense let up and allowed the North Americans to get right back into the game. A three goal lead was reduced to one as team North America seemed to find an answer to their mid-game letdown.
A bit under seven minutes into the third period, Kucherov drew a hooking penalty against Connor McDavid which may have saved the North Americans from getting scored on. The Russians were momentarily able to set up their half-ice offense, but were stifled by the North American penalty kill.
Team Russia seemed to get away with a few penalties until about 11 minutes into the period, when Panarin got nailed with a tripping call, shortly followed by a delay of game penalty by Anisimov, leading to a crucial Team North America two man advantage for over a minute and a half. After a few shot blocks and zone clears, team Russia was able to kill off the two man advantage and ended up with an abbreviated powerplay against the North Americans. The Russians quickly set up the half ice and began working the perimeter against North America, but it wasn’t enough to regain their two goal lead.
With three minutes left in the game, Emelin laid out Jack Eichel in the neutral zone, but the play led the North Americans to an elongated attack, keeping the Russians on the ice for a long shift. A minute later, John Gibson was pulled and the North Americans set up shop in the Russian zone, nearly scoring with a bit over a minute left in the match. The Russians continued to fail to clear the puck, and Dmitry Orlov took a penalty for tripping, giving the Russians a small break with 40 seconds left. After three solid scoring chances from North America, the Russians were finally able to ice the puck and take the game 4-3.
Despite a powerful North American performance, the Russians were able to pull away with a crucial two points. A momentary letdown in the second period, and an incredible performance by Sergei Bobrovski ended up being the cause of defeat for the North Americans. The young North American team had the Russians beat in speed, defense, and arguably offense, but the ability of the Russians to capitalize on big plays proved to be too much. Team Russia had also picked up their defense and were able to clear their zone better in the latter half of the game.
Those who were able to watch this game were in for a treat. No matter who you were pulling for, this was definitely the most exciting game of the World Cup of Hockey so far.
My three stars of the Game:
1st star: Sergei Bobrovski
2nd star: Nathan MacKinnon
3rd star: Pavel Datsyuk
By Justin Green