Denmark defeated but not disgraced
Sergei Mozyakin struck twice and Russia's deadly power play added two more as Russia rebounded from Monday's defeat against the USA to beat Denmark 5-2.
After Mozyakin and Artemi Panarin put Russia 2-0 up midway through the first period it seemed that the team might finally be about to unleash the kind of free-scoring performance everyone knows it is capable of.
But it’s been a case of famine or feast for Russia at the 2015 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship. The defending champion has produced some breathtaking goal blitzes to settle its games with Norway and Slovenia in the first period, but for long periods against Denmark it tested its fans’ patience with more of the unconvincing play it has displayed all too frequently in the tournament.
With the team under increased pressure after Monday’s 2-4 reverse against the USA, the task here was not merely to win but to deliver a more convincing performance for the full 60 minutes - but after the victory Russia's players were not entirely happy with the performance.
"We didn’t quite play the kind of game we need at the World Championship," said Artemi Panarin. "We’ll have to keep working on it – there are more difficult opponents ahead and things will get harder."
That defeat against the Americans prompted a re-shuffle, with Ilya Kovalchuk and Vladimir Tarasenko swapping lines in a bid to trigger an offence that had often looked better on paper than it does on the ice. Kovi joined SKA St. Petersburg team-mate Viktor Tikhonov and Avangard Omsk man Sergei Shirokov; Tarasenko lined up with Sergei Plotnikov and Artyom Anisimov.Continue reading
Meanwhile Yevgeni Malkin, continuing with Mozyakin and Nikolai Kulyomin, had his best game of the tournament to date, putting up two assists and posing a far greater offensive threat than in previous appearances here. "I agree I was able to contribute more today," he said "Maybe I’m recovering a little bit, got some rest so I feel a bit better. And I’m working better with my partners. I’m enjoying playing on this line and we’re trying to create chances and score goals."
But attempts to launch a goal rush similar to the ones that blew away Norway and Slovenia in the opening moments of those games were thwarted by some dogged Danish resistance. The game plan was clear: get bodies into centre ice, get in the way of the puck and frustrate at every turn.
Tarasenko was the first to really get behind enemy lines. In the eighth minute he burst down the boards, jinked past Markus Lauridsen and got eyeball-to-eyeball with Sebastian Dahm, only to see his shot loop high off the goalie’s pads to safety. A couple of minutes later a good chance for Yevgeni Dadonov ended with a penalty on the Danes and Russia’s PP tightened the screws. Dahm had already made a strong glove save to deny Malkin but had no answer to Panarin’s one-timer from the top of the circle off Dadonov’s pass.
Panarin, along with Dadonov and Vadim Shipachyov, has been part of the most productive line for Russia in Ostrava but he insists he isn't feeling any added pressure.
"I don’t feel that we are carrying this team," he said. "The whole team knows that we all have a role to play."
Two minutes later Russia doubled is lead and Malkin got his first point of the tournament. His pass found Mozyakin on the blue line and the KHL’s all-time leading goalscorer slammed his shot in off the post on Dahm’s stick side.
Establishing a lead hasn’t generally been a problem for Russia, but keeping its foot to the floor has been – and so it proved again. The team rarely looked like getting out of second gear despite its comfortable position in the game and was stunned to concede midway through the second period. Denmark’s captain Morten Green reduced the deficit with a somewhat freakish effort that bobbled around the crease and crept between Sergei Bobrovski’s skate and the far post after the forward had battled hard along the red line. A lifeline for Denmark as another outsider found a way to examine last year’s imperious champion more closely than expected.
Green said: "I was hoping to bring the puck out in front and I think it may have hit someone before it went in. At the time it was important to get that goal and cut the lead in half."
It took a power play for Russia’s most productive combination to relieve the anxiety of the sizeable visiting contingent from the East. Dadonov was on the mark again, tipping home a Yevgeni Medevedev shot from the point to claim his third goal of the competition and reinstate Russia’s two-goal advantage.
Once again, though, success did not breed further success. Despite having the edge at the start of the third stanza, it took the shock of another Danish goal to inject some real urgency into Russia’s play.
Denmark’s marker came on the power play in the 50th minute; an attempted Russian clearance was intercepted in the zone by Thomas Spelling and he had time to set himself for a slap shot that ripped past Bobrovski. That left head coach Jan Karlsson reflecting on an encouraging performance from his players despite their defeat.
Play immediately switched to the other end and Dahm pulled off two big saves from Panarin as Russia revved up at last. Finally Mozyakin settled the outcome with a little under three minutes to play, wrapping up a rare flash of Russian brilliance as Malkin and Kulyomin unleashed one of those trademark passing moves that sliced through the Danish defence. Tarasenko added a fifth goal late on, and there was still time for Malkin and Oliver Lauridsen to trade blows in the last minute as Russia bounced back from Monday's defeat but still left several questions about its performance unanswered.
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