After a massive 6-2 victory over Norway last Friday, Russia finds itself facing Slovenia, which yesterday suffered a 4-2 defeat by Belarus during its first match of the 2015 IIHF World Championship. Here’s a chronicle of today’s first Group B match.
As it may be expected, the Russians try to break their opponents’ defensive line since the very start of the game: after just four minutes of play, their strategy proves to be effective, as team captain Ilya Kovalchuk (winner of this year’s Gagarin Cup with SKA St. Petersburg, previously of the Atlanta Thrashers and of the New Jersey Devils) successfully finds the Slovenian net after a powerful shot.
Just a handful of seconds later, Russia scores again, despite Slovenia trying desperately to prevent the puck into going behind the goal line: this time the action is put forward by Nikolai Kulyomin of the New York Islanders, assisted by defender Viktor Antipin.
After some unsuccessful goal attempts from the Russians, which repeatedly find themselves in front of Slovenian goalie Luka Gračnar, the Lynxes seem to recover from earlier astonishment, and they succeed in creating a little bit of pressure in the last minutes of the opening period, thanks to a penalty awarded to Artyom Anisimov (Columbus Blue Jackets): still, even this proves to be insufficient to score, and a power play for the Russians follows immediately after, with the reigning world champions finding once again the net (the scorer is Evgenij Dadonov, also playing for SKA).
The second period starts with Russia leading by 3-0, but a powerful save by Gračnar kills the dream of a further lead after a few seconds: then, the only Slovenian player to be a member of a NHL team, Anže Kopitar of the L. A. Kings, scores the goal which enables his squad to shorten the distances for the first time since the start of the game.
Slovenian hopes don’t last for too long, though, as a penalty is awarded against team captain Tomaž Razingar. Evgenij Malkin‘s attempts to score are nevertheless useless, and the situation remains quite the same even after another penalty, this time against Russia’s Dmitri Kulikov.
When the worst seems to have passed for the tiny Alpine state, 28-year old Vadim Shipachyov scores once again for Russia, obtaining his fourth point (two goals and two assists) in the tournament so far. He too is, needless to say, currently playing for SKA.
As the second half of the period begins, Slovenia tries to recover from the shock caused by Shipachyov’s goal, and it actually manages to do so: Žiga Pance, playing in the Austrian championship with HCB South Tyrol, baffles Russia’s goalie Konstantin Barulin with an effective action which, despite the attempts to be recreated by his fellow teammates in the final minutes, remains alone on the scoreboard, thus ending the period with a score of 4-2 (not before a shot by Dadonov which fails to enter the net, crashing on the posts).
The final third of this really interesting Group B game happens to have a very fast start, as both teams try to penetrate into their opponent’s defensive half.
While Malkin’s attempts are once again frustrated by his own lack of effectiveness -something shown by him so many times today-, the same cannot be said of the one made by Dadonov, which scores his second goal of the match (and the fifth Russian one).
With just five minutes remaining, Slovenia stuns everyone with a goal by Robert Sabolič, himself playing for Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga. Despite some powerful initiatives made by both teams until the end of the match, this score of 5-3 remains unchanged, as Russia goes on to win its second game of the championship.
A kudos to Slovenia needs anyways to be made, as they demonstrated to be able to react offensively pretty well even against a stronger and fearful opponent as Russia, winning a really high number of faceoffs and giving the audience a really nice display of hockey with a roster mainly composed of players under contract in Europe’s finest leagues (and with only one player serving in the NHL, the national hero Kopitar, and another in the KHL).
Russia will face Team USA tomorrow in one of the classic clashes of the World Championship, while the Slovenes will have to wait next Tuesday to come back on the ice, this time against Slovakia.