4 Thoughts: Russia Beats the U.S. for Bronze at Worlds

The home team grabbed hardware, as Russia routed the U.S. 7-2 in the bronze medal game of the 2016 IIHF World Championship.

The U.S. came out of the gate furiously, taking six of the first seven shots, looking every bit the team that pushed Canada to the brink Saturday. But it didn’t take long for Russia to show the dynamic offensive force that they’ve been in fits and starts throughout the tournament.

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The U.S., less than 24 hours removed from a tough battle against their northern neighbors, looked flat-footed as Russia controlled the game, despite the deceptive appearance of the U.S. outshooting their opponent 30-29. That’s a stat that embodies what score effects are all about.

1. Artemi Panarin isn’t going away

The rookie of the year situation for Panarin is a double-edged sword. Some deride a system that would call a 24-year-old who has played seven years of pro hockey a rookie. At the same time, it makes him seem young and untested because he’s called a rookie. How many Calder Trophy finalists have been a spark plug and then faded from the limelight? Kris Versteeg, Andrew Raycroft, Trent Hunter, Barret Jackman.

No uncertainty should exist about Panarin’s talent. He showed that previously in the KHL, this year in Chicago and then throughout the World Championship. He had a goal and a beautiful assist Sunday that completely froze Chris Wideman.

Panarin finishes the tournament with a bronze medal, and 15 points in 10 games.

2. What happened to Ovechkin?

At the opposite end of the spectrum for Russia, Ovechkin was unable to contribute much. He didn’t score in Sunday’s game and finished the tournament with just a goal and an assist. He wasn’t even a part of Russia’s top power play unit on Sunday. That’s a unit that has struggled throughout the tournament — at times putting Ovechkin at point — unable to deliver on the huge amount of offensive talent they have. Sunday, without Ovechkin, they scored a pair of power play markers.

Once the game was out of hand, he looked like he was gripping his stick tightly, taking shots from anywhere in an attempt to waylay a little of the derision that was sure to come his way.

He took a lot of flak he didn’t deserve for the Washington Capitals early postseason exit, but his lack of production here was noticeable.

3. Of American Age and Goaltending

The U.S. team that won a bronze last year was very young. They’re even younger this year (the youngest team in the tournament), but it’s comparable, with just a couple of NHL regulars on each roster. They aren’t a gold medal team, but they played this tournament with moxy. Swarming at times, showing prowess on the power play and having a number of very good moments (which didn’t include the loss to Germany or most of the overtime loss to Slovakia).

The big difference between bronze last year and a participation ribbon this year might be goaltending. It’s been a long time since the U.S. has had a starting NHL goaltender on their World Championship roster, but they nonetheless got great goaltending out of Connor Hellebuyck last year.

Keith Kinkaid and Mike Condon failed to provide a reliable backstop this year. All seven goals Sunday aren’t on Kinkaid, but in a tournament like this you need your goaltender to steal a goal away from the opposition, maybe even a whole game, and that’s not what they got at any point from either netminder.

Kinkaid finished the tournament with a .870 save percentage and Condon posted a .878. Thatcher Demko never saw game action.

4. The Larkin & Matthews Show

The standouts for the U.S. are the two players most likely to be a part of a U.S. best-on-best roster in the future: Dylan Larkin and Auston Matthews. They led the U.S. with nine points a piece.

One of the most impressive pieces for these two was excellent play without the puck at both ends of the rink. It’s a mark of players that are able to make a game-changing impact. Larkin came to Worlds last year to prove he was ready for the NHL, and he was. The U.S. was lucky to have him back. He created space and provided a lot for a team that could have suffered an even worse fate.

Matthews might be doing a similar move to prove he’s ready for the NHL in advance of June’s NHL draft. If there were any questions about whether he’s ready to jump straight into the NHL — there shouldn’t have been — those are erased with this performance. His nine points gives him the sixth most points ever by a U19 player.

On a separate note, Connor McDavid is one point from tying Matthews and joining him among the top 10 U19 players in Worlds history. Finland’s Patrik Laine is already up there, having scored 12 points prior to Sunday’s gold medal game. That’s second all time, four points behind Sidney Crosby’s record.

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