The Russians got back into game action at the World Juniors on Tuesday night looking to make up for their 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic in their last game. In a game considered by many to be a free space on the bingo card, Team Russia managed to run away with a 7-1 win. The scoreline wasn’t entirely indicative of the game, however.
Podkolzin Finds His Offence
The Russian captain, and my pick for the Russian player to watch before the tournament, finally found the back of the net for the first time in this World Juniors. He did his damage in the first period when he scored two goals and nearly scored a third, but Marat Khusnutdinov tapped it in.
While Vasily Podkolzin’s first period was by far his best, he didn’t stop creating chances. He was the buzzsaw of the night and a much-needed one at that. Team Russia needs him to continue to play like this for the rest of the tournament. He would have picked up another point had Rodion Amirov not been robbed by Austria’s netminder, Jakob Brandner.
It is key going forward that Podkolzin can continue this forward momentum. With the Russians struggling to create offence, the team’s best players need to step up. Although it’s only one game, and a game against Austria at that, this is a promising sign for Team Russia.
The Health of Yegor Chinakhov
Early in the game, Yegor Chinakhov was taken hard into the boards on a breakaway which drew a penalty shot. The Russians drew first blood on that penalty shot, but Amirov took the shot, not Chinakhov.
Chinakhov was surprisingly picked in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets but has proven his value in this tournament by playing really well so far. The question is whether or not he will be available for Wednesday’s game against Team Sweden.
Who will draw in for Russia? Vladislav Firstov was taken out of the lineup before last night’s game, but if the injury to Chinakhov is serious enough to keep him out, you can expect to see Firstov back.
Firstov was scratched for a reason. He may be a downgrade from Chinakhov, but the team might not have a choice. It will come down to having players like Mikhail Abramov and Amirov step up and play bigger roles if Chinakhov is out for tonight’s all-important game.
Allowing Austria to Control the Game
Under normal circumstances, it would be hard to claim that the team that lost by six goals carried the pace for large stretches, but that was exactly what Team Austria was able to accomplish, particularly after they scored their first goal of the tournament.
For the final 12 minutes of the second period after the goal, it seemed like the Austrians could have made the game close if they had a little bit more talent on their side. It’s no secret that they are inferior to Team Russia, but their effort level was clearly head and shoulders above the Russians for stretches of this game.
Of course, a win is a win, and the Russians went back to the hotel with another three points. However, their play against both the Czech Republic and Austria is cause for concern. Team Austria stuck with the Russians and even carried the pace at times. That can’t happen.
Fortunately for Team Russia, they are more talented than Austria. Even when they weren’t playing their best, they still managed to score seven goals, but their foot came off the gas too early. This needs to be cleaned up before tonight’s game, it is way too important to have a poor showing.
Next Game Is Massive
The game against Team Sweden is important, and you can call that the understatement of the year. This is a crucial game to decide who wins the pool and plays the weakest possible opponent from Group A.
A win is all the Russians need; beat Sweden, win Group B. For all that has gone wrong for the Russians so far in this tournament, having a chance to win the group is a very good sign of a resilient team. But it won’t be easy.
Sweden hasn’t lost a game in the preliminary round of the World Juniors in their last 54 games. Their last loss was 14 years ago in 2006, a record that surely will never be broken.
Team Russia needs to get back to playing a style similar to what we saw against the Americans when they opened the tournament on Christmas. If they do that, they will win.
Yaroslav Askarov will also need to be the goalie that stops everything. He has had his troubles in this tournament, including that opening game, but tonight he needs to take over and steal a game. He is capable of it, and if he can do it here, the Russians will be in great shape to win.
Even though the Russians have been had disappointing moments in this tournament, it is vital that they put that behind them ahead of tonight’s game. A win gives them top spot in Group B, but a loss sees them fall to 2-2. If that happens, and things don’t go their way going forward, they could be heading for a matchup against Team Canada in the quarter-finals.
That is not what Team Russia wants. They have the talent to end Sweden’s long winning streak, but it will be a matter of putting everything together when it matters.
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Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking hockey on my podcast, Hockey Prospect Report, or you can find me talking Canadian Football on my other podcast and website the 13th Man Podcast!