The Russians opened up their 2020 World Junior Championship with a frustrating and all around undisciplined 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic. Facing off against the host country (especially one that hasn’t hosted in nearly a decade) for their first game is a tall task for any team of the tournament. That being said, the Russians failed to meet expectations and struggled for all 60 minutes to find any sort of flow to their game.
Askarov Underwhelming in U20 Debut
The 17-year-old goaltending phenom can notch his U20 debut as one to forget. Through two periods, Yaroslavl Askarov had allowed four goals on just 17 shots from the Czechs. The third goal was particularly weak as Majej Blumel crossed the slot with a Russian defender drenched all over him. Blumel fired a cross-body shot that beat Askarov right above the pad and below the glove, giving the Czech’s their second lead of the game. A low percentage shot like that just can’t go in, especially with the momentum on the Russians’ side in the second.
After allowing a fourth goal on a five-on-three to close out the period, Russia’s goaltending coach, Nikolai Khabibulin had seen enough of Askarov. Amir Miftakhov manned the net for the third period but wasn’t tested much, seeing only five shots on goal. Askarov may get another shot at the starting role when the Russians face off against Team Canada on Dec. 28, but his leash suddenly got much, much shorter.
On top of the poor goaltending, the Russians were shorthanded for a large portion of the contest. Considering how often they were penalized, it’s honestly a blessing that the final score ended at 4-3. Two of the Czech’s goals came on the man advantage, including the game winner, scored by Jan Jenik on a five-on-three power play to conclude the second period.
In total, the Russians committed eight separate penalties, including three in a span of two minutes in the final minutes of the second. In addition, Danila Galenyuk was assessed a 10-minute misconduct for boarding with just four minutes left to play in the contest. That came just 27 seconds after Yegor Zamula was sent off for holding. Down by a goal and momentum against them, the Russians can not be taking undisciplined penalties, especially in quick succession.
Capitalizing on the Man Advantage
The Russians weren’t the only team to take numerous penalties through the contest. The Czech’s were assessed six penalties, including four in the first period. The stat sheet won’t say so, but the Russians essentially capitalized on two of those four power plays. Zamula scored his first of the contest just a few seconds after the first penalty expired and Vasili Podkolzin scored the first of his U20 WJC career a second after their power play concluded.
The second power play was particularly strong, led by a phenomenal performance by Zamula. The Russians’ main weakness was their depth at forward and defense. If they can continue to get scoring from their bottom-six, specifically Podkolzin on the third line, they should be able to find plenty of success in the tournament.
Yegor Zamula Leads the Offense and Defense
If the Russians get this kind of performance from Zamula on a regular basis, he has an excellent chance of becoming a top offensive threat from the blue line. Alexander Romanov led the Russians with 23:11 time on ice in the contest, but Zamula was a close second with 19:50, including his team-high 7:26 in the third period.
His two goals were absolute beauties, particularly his second marker of the game. He received an excellent pass from Dmitri Voronkov to set Zamula up right in the slot, beating Lukas Dostal with a top-shelf rocket. The undrafted Philadelphia Flyers prospect has a chance to really shine as the second best defenseman on the Russian blue line.
What’s Next for the Russians?
For right now, the Russians are faced with a bit of a goaltending crisis. They’ll have a day off to figure out how to approach Askarov and if he’s the answer for them going forward. If he starts against the Canadians, he’ll have to put together a phenomenal performance to save his starting job, and perhaps his 2020 Draft stock.
Luckily, it’s still just the preliminaries and the Russians have plenty of time to figure out their game. They still have contests against the Canadians, United States and Germany to get their game together and qualify for the knockout round.