Russia hit the ice for their second game of the preliminary round, and it was already a “must-win” scenario for head coach Sergei Zubov and his roster. After losing their first game to Sweden, the Russian squad needed a regulation time win to keep their chances for earning the top seed in Group B alive.
Despite having only a morning skate and some video time to adjust, Team Russia found a way to improve in several areas of their game. There is still room for improvement, but this game was much closer to what was expected of a Russian lineup leading to a 4-2 victory over Team Switzerland.
Russia Controls Possession
After playing a game against Sweden where they chased the play, Russia focused on playing a more traditional Russian style of game, where they controlled puck possession for the majority of the game. Zubov had his team attacking the neutral zone with speed and using his defence to get the transition game started, led by New Jersey Devils 2021 first-round pick Shakir Mukhamadullin.
This allowed their wingers to enter the offensive zone with speed and generate shots off the rush. More importantly, it gave them a controlled entry where the weak side forward could close off the boards and start a cycle game with speed. This allowed the third forward to attack the net in the slot and create confusion. Russia used this attack consistently when playing at even strength, allowing them to generate all four of their goals.
Zubov Adjusts Systems
Despite a 3-2 neutral zone trap employed by Switzerland, Russia was able to break through using the adjustments Zubov utilized. One adjustment was noted above, the use of puck possession with speed. Another was patience. When there was no opening, the Russians were able to return into their own zone, regroup and then attack again.
Another adjustment was to use the entire width of the ice. By attacking along an east-west axis, the Russian forwards were able to open up seams in the Swiss neutral zone trap. They also moved up ice as a five-man unit, providing proper puck support when creating offence, but also gave them good defensive coverage, allowing Russia to backcheck and cut off any developing Swiss play.
The other adjustment Zubov was able to employ — and this one was likely the most crucial — was that the Russians played with more intensity and determination.
Russia Improves on Special Teams
Russia only had the one power play, but it had quality control of offensive zone time. However, the defenders at the points were still sloppy in their pinches from the blue line, as they were in the game vs. Sweden, allowing the Swiss defenders to create a breakaway. It took two Russians backchecking hard to keep the attacker on his backhand, making it much easier for Yegor Guskov to step up and make the save.
The penalty kill looked much better — also much more aggressive. Russia kept the puck at the perimeter, which helped goaltender Guskov as the Swiss were able to get an excellent shot from outside the slot that hit the post. Had Russia not been as aggressive in defending the slot, that one opportunity could have been a sure goal had it been taken from that inner slot.
Russia will now enjoy a day off between games. This is not a time for rest as Zubov will use it to solidify the adjustments he was able to have his players buy into and work to build upon them. Their biggest test of the preliminary round is yet to come as they will need a win over Team USA to earn one of the top two seeds going into the qualifying round.
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Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 29 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist with the goal to be a trusted source of information and entertainment.