The Worlds Three Games In
The first bit of good news is that it appears that Sergei Mozyakin will be alright, and may even be able to rejoin the festivities at the 2017 IIHF World Championship. That happy prognosis looked unlikely earlier today, when the Team Russia captain lay on the ice in Köln’s Lanxess Arena, victim of a slew-foot, from German forward Patrick Hager, that was as cynical and horrendous as any you will see (Hager received a match penalty, and that call was not a difficult one for the referees). Mozyakin left the ice only with considerable assistance, and was taken to hospital for observation; concussion was suspected, as the Metallurg Magnitogorsk forward had struck his head on the ice with some force due to Hager’s hit. However, reports tonight are that Mozyakin was not concussed, and returned to Team Russia’s hotel in time for dinner with his team-mates. We will see if he is in the lineup when Russia take on Denmark on Thursday.
The other piece of good news for Team Russia and its fans is that the record after three World Championship games stands at 3-0, even if one of those victories, coming via the shootout, earned two points rather than the hoped-for three. Read on for a recap of the action so far, and some thoughts!
Russia began the tournament with a stiff test last Friday, facing Sweden; the pre-Worlds form book suggested that the Russians, Swedes, and Americans should be the three teams contesting top spot in Group A. Russia fell behind in the first period of the opening game, and for a long while Elias Lindholm’s goal looked like it might stand up as all Sweden needed. However, a furious third-period effort from coach Oleg Znarok’s Russian side yielded a 14-3 shot advantage in the final 20 minutes, and — more importantly — Sergei Andronov’s equalizing goal. Extra time solved nothing, but Artemy Panarin settled matters in Russia’s favour once the shoot-out rolled around. It was a good Worlds debut for Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 22 of 23 shots during the game and then made another three saves on three Swedish attempts in the shoot-out.
Sunday’s Game 2 for Team Russia featured newly-promoted Italy as the opponents, with Gli Azzurri having picked up a welcome point from their own opener against Slovakia. However, they could not repeat that performance against the Russians; Znarok’s crew took matters in hand early and cruised to a 10-1 victory. Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Vadim Shipachyov, and Panarin all had four points, while Mozyakin had three; Namestnikov, Panarin, and the increasingly interesting Andronov were Russia’s two-goal men on the night. Vasilevskiy started the game in net (and gave up the Italian goal, to Tommaso Traversa), but stepped aside at the start of the third so that back-up Ilya Sorokin could get some game-time.
And that brought us to today’s third game of the Worlds for Team Russia against a German opponent who already had recorded an upset victory on home ice against the U.S.A. A meeting with Team Germany, in Germany, on the eve of Victory Day was always likely to have a certain added emotion to it, as Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretyak noted afterwards; perhaps the extra intensity played into Hager’s moment of madness that ended both his night and Mozyakin’s. By that time, mid-way through the first period, Russia was already up 1-0, and they punished Germany with two more goals during Hager’s five-minute major. 3-0 after the first period, and it was 5-0 after two. Germany pushed back hard in the third period, and managed to get the puck past Vasilevskiy three times, but Russia added another of their own to make final score 6-3. Kucherov and Shipachyov led the way with a pair of goals apiece, while Panarin contributed four assists. And so Russia’s record stands at 3-0, and top spot in Group A is currently theirs, although Team Latvia, having a splendid start of its own to the Worlds, is just two points back with a game in hand.
Russia’s, and indeed the tournament’s, top scorer so far has been the Chicago Blackhawks’ Panarin (3 gp, 3-6-9), who has been reunited with his former SKA St. Petersburg linemates Shipachyov and Yevgeny Dadonov; six of Russia’s 17 goals so far have come from that trio. Shipachyov, of course, has been much in the news this week for signing with the NHL’s expansion Las Vegas franchise, and rumour has it that the Golden Knights would like bring Dadonov over as well.
Nikita Gusev, who replaced Panarin alongside Shipachyov and Dadonov at SKA, has been on a line with the Tampa Bay Lightning pairing of Kucherov and Namestnikov, and that line has added another five tallies. The trio of Mozyakin, Sergei Plotnikov, and Vladimir Tkachyov has three goals so far, and the other three scores have all come from Andronov, on the fourth line with Ivan Telegin and Alexander Barabanov. CSKA Moscow’s Andronov is garnering some attention, deservedly enough, from NHL scouts at this tournament, although it appears that he will remain with CSKA Moscow for the coming season (h/t to Ken Alpay).
No goals yet from the Russian defence group, although Ivan Provorov, who had an excellent NHL rookie campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers, has contributed three assists. In goal, Vasilevskiy’s .921 save percentage will do just fine for now — that number suffered somewhat during the third period against Germany, but 22-year-old Lightning goalie has had a very good tournament so far in general. We will take a closer luck at the Russian defence and goaltending during the next update, when the group stage is over.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the Russian powerplay, with has accounted for nine goals so far on 13 opportunities. A small sample, of course, and the quality of competition has varied widely, but that’s still impressive (to put it another away, Russia has nine goals in 13:44 with the man advantage).
The two-day break for Russia before facing Denmark on Thursday will be a welcome one, as we all await the definitive word on Mozyakin’s health. It would be a great shame if he were forced out of competition at this early stage, as even at 36 years old he remains a fascinating and thrilling player to watch at work. The IIHF will doubtless give serious consideration to further disciplining Hager, and rightly so; his slew-foot was vicious, predatory, and absolutely unnecessary (Mozyakin had passed away the puck with ample time for the German player to ease off on the hit), and it could have had much more devastating consequences. Even Germany’s own coach, ex-NHLer Marco Sturm, criticized Hager for his actions, saying: “Patrick must behave better.” Said an understandably furious Tretyak: “Such players must be suspended not for one game, not for two, but for as many as possible.” We will see what happens.
So, Denmark on Thursday, and Slovakia will be Team Russia’s opposition on Saturday. The group stage will then wind up with games against Latvia next Monday and the U.S.A. on Tuesday the 16th, at which point we will have another update on how things are going in Köln. In the meantime, thank you for reading!