Olympic Update: February 16th, 2018
The Russian men’s team headed into their second round-robin game on Friday with an unexpected 0-1 record, having dropped their opener 3-2 to Slovakia. Next on the schedule was Slovenia, and… well, the ship got itself righted in a fairly big way! Read on, for a recap of that game, and a quick note on the women’s team’s quarterfinal against Switzerland, which is now over. A full recap of that game will be along here on Saturday.
After the upset loss to Slovakia on Wednesday, Russian coach Oleg Znarok switched up his roster and line combinations to face Slovenia, who themselves were coming off an upset victory over the United States. Out of the lineup went forward Vadim Shipachyov (reportedly due to illness) and defenceman Alexei Marchenko, who had had a bad game against the Slovaks. Ilya Kablukov and Yegor Yakovlev drew in as their respective replacements. Znarok also broke up the “all-veteran” line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, and Sergei Mozyakin; Kovalchuk lined up alongside Sergei Andronov and Sergei Kalinin, Datsyuk moved over to centre a skill-loaded line with Nikita Gusev and Kirill Kaprizov, and Mozyakin went back to his anticipated role as 13th forward and power-play specialist. Znarok did, however, keep faith with Vasily Koshechkin in goal, with Ilya Sorokin backing him up.
Appropriately enough, it was Mozyakin who got the party started, and on the powerplay too. The two teams looked certain to be heading into the first break at 0-0 after a tense opening period, but the Metallurg Magnitogorsk superstar found himself some space, as he does, and it was 1-0 for the Russian squad. Just 20 seconds later, Ilya Kovalchuk found the net, and all of a sudden, a scoreless tie had turned into a 2-0 advantage. The Russian powerplay struck again early in the second period, through Alexander Barabanov, and the team’s confidence was almost visibly growing by this point. Kablukov was awarded a penalty-shot; he missed, but then scored anyway from open play just a couple of minutes later. Down 4-0, Slovenia called their time-out, but to little avail, as Kirill Kaprizov struck to make the score 5-0, and that only just at the halfway mark of the game. The rout was truly on, although Slovenia did finally strike back, as former KHLer Jan Muršak got the puck past Koshechkin. But an excellent middle frame for the Russians ended with yet another goal — Kovalchuk’s second of the game made the score 6-1 after 40 minutes.
With the result well in hand, Znarok switched goalies, giving Sorokin his first taste of Olympic hockey. His team-mates welcomed him by increasing their lead, as Kaprizov scored his second of the game in the opening minutes of the third. And the prodigious young CSKA Moscow forward completed the hat-trick six minutes later for an 8-1 Russian lead. From there, Znarok’s crew pretty much put the cruise control on; Slovenia did get a consolation prize in the last minute when Žiga Pance scored, but by then all doubts had been removed, and the final score read 8-2. The Russians out-shot Slovenia by 34-15, and allowed only eight opposing attempts through to Koshechkin in the opening 40 minutes.
Eyes in this game were particularly focused on the Russian powerplay, which had gone 0-5 in the loss to Slovakia. Well, it redeemed itself thoroughly in this one, scoring twice on three opportunities — and the one man-advantage on which the Russians did not score lasted only four seconds. And of course, with eight goals scored, there were nice lines aplenty on the scoresheet; in addition to Kaprizov’s hat-trick, Kovalchuk contributed two goals and an assist, and Nikita Gusev provided three assists of his own.
After the game, the hat-trick man, Kaprizov, spoke of the relief when Mozyakin broke through to give them that late first-period lead:
“It seemed to me that at the start of the game we were still nervous. It’s good that the powerplay scored. First Sergei Mozyakin got one, then Ilya Kovalchuk scored. After these goals it became easier to play.”
There were some Russian national team records set in this game: Kovalchuk and Datsyuk both played in their 25th Olympic match for the Russian team (not including the Soviet era), passing Sergei Gonchar for most all-time. Kovalchuk’s two goals gave him 11 in his career at the Games, tying him for first among Russian players with Pavel Bure (again, this does not include the USSR teams). And Kaprizov’s hat-trick was made him the youngest Russian player ever to score three goals in a game, at 20 years and nine months. He is the second-youngest if we include the Soviet era, as Vladimir Krutov scored a hat-trick at Lake Placid in 1980 at the age of 19.
And so it is on to Saturday’s final round-robin game, against the American team. The U.S. beat Slovakia on Friday, which means that Group B now has a lovely four-cornered arrangement: Slovenia beat the U.S., who beat Slovakia, who beat Russia, who beat Slovenia, and back to the start we go. It means that first place in the group is certainly within reach for Znarok and his team, and the math is quite simple: they need to both beat the Americans and get more points than the Slovaks do in their game against Slovenia.
Among the attendees at Friday’s game were the players and coaches of the Russian women’s team, who had cancelled their own practice to watch their compatriots play. “To clear the girls’ heads,” said Head Coach Alexei Chistyakov when asked the reason for the decision, referring to the psychological stress the women’s team’s 0-3 (1-15 GF-GA) group stage record at these Games. Well, the gambit worked. On Saturday afternoon in South Korea (Friday evening in North America), the Russian women took on Switzerland in the quarterfinal of the Olympic tournament, and emerged at the end with a resounding 6-2 victory! There are too many storylines to cover properly in this post (“Four points for Anna Shokhina” would be the big one, and that only scratches the surface), but there will be a full recap along tomorrow, with quotes and pictures as well!
Thank you for reading!