3 Takeaways From Russia’s WJC Opening Loss to Sweden

Russia hit the ice for their first game of the 2022 World Junior Championships preliminary round, facing off against Team Sweden in a game that will likely have a direct impact on who will win the top seed from Group B going into the medal round.

Being the first game of the tournament, it was obvious teams were still feeling out not just their opponents but also their own teammates. With only one pre-tournament game for Team Russia, head coach Sergei Zubov didn’t have much time to install his new system and allow his roster to gel before beginning tournament play.

Russia’s Discipline Issues

Russia had far too many defensive errors all throughout the game vs. Sweden. In the first two periods, they were unable to outwork the Swedes, losing nearly all one-on-one battles along the boards, and gave up too many chances in the high slot. In the final 20 minutes, Sweden sat back to defend, allowing Russia to step up its game. In their defensive zone, they needed their veteran defenders led by returnee Shakir Mukhamadullin to set the tone, but they were unable to do so early.

Shakir Mukhamadullin Team Russia
Shakir Mukhamadullin of Team Russia (Russia Hockey/FHR.RU)

Losing battles led to Russia chasing the play far too often, forcing them to take several poor penalties. This Russian team must find a way to be ready to compete from the first shift. When they fell behind on the scoreboard, they lacked the structure that they’re traditionally known for. They will need to find that line where they can play their style without taking penalties.

Russia’s Special Teams Faltered

While it’s just one game, each game means quite a lot in a short tournament. In this game, Russia’s special teams failed them, giving up three power-play (PP) goals against, as well as one shorthanded goal (SHG). In a 6-3 loss, those four goals led directly to this loss.

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The penalty-killing units played far too passively in this game. Zubov will need to find a way to get his defence to be more aggressive in their puck pursuit, as the Swedish PP had far too much time and space to open up lanes and get shots on goal.

The PP units will also need to find some intensity as well. On the SHG, the Russian PP lost two board battles, allowing Detroit Red Wings prospect Simon Edvinsson to poke the puck past the last defender and generate a breakaway goal. The Russians were unable to use their skill to create offensively, the remainder of the time with the man advantage.

It’s Just One Game

The bad news is the game was a loss to a top competitor. The good news? It’s just one game. Zubov will have his work cut out for him to polish the Russian roster and game plan, but the expectation for this team is that they can recover and compete for the top seed in their group.

In the first 40 mins, most of their offensive chances came off of the rush and from the perimeter as they were unable to attack the middle due to strong defensive play by Team Sweden. It wasn’t all bad news for Russia in this first game, as they came out strong in the third period, led by 2023 NHL Draft eligible Matvei Michkov:

Russia controlled play at five-on-five, outscoring Sweden three to one. While Sweden was playing to defend, credit to Russia, who made adjustments going into the final frame in their intensity but also in attacking with support. More importantly, Russia began to attack the middle of the ice, which led directly to all three goals. But it was too little too late as they fell too far behind to mount a comeback in only 20 minutes.

It’s just the first game due to the pre-tournament tune-up being cut down to one game. As a result, Russia didn’t have much time to gel as a team under their new head coach, Sergei Zubov. Having their first tournament game against a top competitor and not against a lower-seeded team also did them no favors. However, as the tournament wears on, the expectation is for the errors that cost Russia this game will get polished out of their play.

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