Six of the best
Six of the best
Russia races to opening win
The contest was all but over inside 190 seconds as the Russians capitalized on a nervy Norwegian defence to race into a two-goal lead that would never be relinquished.
The first meaningful play came off a Norwegian error – a loose pass fell straight to Artemi Panarin in center ice but the Chicago-bound forward failed to test Lars Volden in Norway’s net. That was a brief reprieve though: Norway soon gave up its first penalty and was duly punished. Panarin’s line with Vadim Shipachyov and Yevgeni Dadonov has been the talk of Russian hockey after firing SKA St. Petersburg to Gagarin Cup glory, and when augmented with Ilya Kovalchuk on the power play it is almost irresistible. Kovi stepped up from the point, fired in a shot and Shipachyov was all alone to touch it past Volden.
Back at equal strength Kovalchuk stayed on the ice and immediately picked out a pass that sprang Norway’s bedraggled back line. Artyom Anisimov was the beneficiary, swooping in on Volden’s net to make it two goals in 20 seconds and reset Norway’s task from ‘difficult’ to ‘daunting’.
After that initial blitzkrieg it was vital for the Norwegians to ease the pressure somehow and avoid a humiliating scoreline. There were some positive signs as the team managed to kill a high-sticking penalty levied against Mats Trygg but there was little evidence of the offence getting started – Norway managed just one shot in the whole first period.
And the scoreboard was soon ticking over again at the other end as Viktor Tikhonov, last year’s leading World Championship scorer, opened his account for 2015. First he collected a hospital pass inside Norway’s blue line and fed Sergei Mozyakin; the Metallurg Magnitogorsk forward picked out his clubmate Danis Zaripov on the slot for 3-0. Then Tikhonov scored one himself off a Yevgeni Medvedev pass to make it four goals from 15 shots as the teams went into the first intermission.Continue reading
That left goalie Sergei Bobrovski a virtual spectator and he admitted that at times it got a bit dull waiting for the game to come to him.
"I didn't have much to do, but I've got to give credit to our guys," he said. "They battled hard, so there weren't many shots on my net. We just needed to keep playing our hockey and not taking anything for granted, even when it was 4-0. I wouldn't say Norway was a bad team, it was just that we came out in a mood to play our best and everyone saw that in the first period."
If the first period highlighted everything that Russia does best, the second gave an abrupt reminder of this team’s defensive frailties. Patrick Thoresen spent last season alongside Kovi & Co in Petersburg, learning a thing or two about recovering lost causes in the play-offs, and he managed to halve the deficit with help from Mathias Olimb and some indifferent defence. In the first minute of the middle stanza Olimb wriggled out of a challenge on the boards before Thoresen applied a clinical close-range finish to raise a loud cheer from the neutrals. Then Olimb tormented Viktor Antipin in the left-hand circle before seeing Thoresen score with a deflected shot that bobbled awkwardly past Bobrovski.
"We had a bad first period and we struggled but we came out better in two and three," said Norwegian coach Roy Johansen. "We lost to a better team and I hope we can continue this tournament playing like we did in the last two periods."
Suddenly Norway was ahead on the shot count for the second period and their more optimistic fans could dream of making a real contest of it. But that hope was short-lived. Before the half-hour mark Maxim Chudinov added a fifth for Russia and another Russian PP tipped the momentum firmly back towards the double-headed eagle. Norway killed that penalty but Panarin, making his first senior World Championship appearance, soon added a sixth as Shipachyov bisected Norway’s defence once again.
Chudinov admitted that the second period was a poor one for Russia. "We weren't bad in the first but in the second we eased off and gave away a couple of silly goals," he said. "But Sergei Mozyakin gave me a great pass and I just tried to get a shot on the net."
Kovalchuk, captaining Russia in this tournament, insisted that his colleagues need to learn from that slow start to the second period. "We let ourselves down a bit, probably because we were winning 4-0," he said. "We have to start every period in this tournament much better than we started the second period. We've got to learn the right lessons from this."
With Russia only icing three lines as it awaits more NHL firepower in the coming days the third period lacked intensity. Norway got to spend more time with the puck but struggled to create much danger around Bobrovski’s net until the very last moments. Russia was content to hold the Scandinavians at arm’s length and play out a goalless final session.
Russian head coach Oleg Znarok complained that his team did not really deliver in the second period but his greatest concern was the possibility of Zaripov and Tikhonov requiring a health check after picking up minor injuries late in the game.
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