Finland vs. Russia/USA vs. Czech Republic Recaps


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Finland vs. Russia

 

By Frank McNichol

Staff Writer

 

Everyone knew what was at stake going into this contest; a win for Russia would spell the end of the road for the young guns from North America. An entire continent’s hopes rested solely with Finland, and today those hopes were crushed as Russia cruised to the 3-0 victory.
The first period got off to a lollygagging start. Neither team could assert themselves as the aggressor in the feeling-out process. To give you an idea of the pace of play, Finland recorded their first shot on net 8:44 into the period. The shots on goal battle in the period was won by Russia who outshot Finland 6 to 3. Finland failed to capitalize on both powerplay opportunities they had, while Russia couldn’t convert on the 16 second man advantage they had to end the period. Overall, things were looking good for Finland. The Russians were expected to come out firing and desperate to somewhat redeem themselves for recent early dismissals from international play, but instead came out flat and uninspired. The Finns came out with an objective in mind to neutralize Ovechkin and the Russian offense, which they accomplished with ease.
Where the Finns succeeded in the first, they failed in the second. Russia started off the period with 1:44 of powerplay time. The Finns killed it off with relative ease, and looked to start pushing their offensive pace. Exactly one minute of play later, Mikael Granlund was fed a beautiful pass in the slot by Jori Lehtera and rang a beauty right off the post. The Finns would immediately reap the consequences of missed opportunities when Alex Ovechkin stepped up to the plate with a beautiful cross crease pass to Vladimir Tarasenko for a tap in goal. Finland net minder Tuukka Rask stood no chance on the play, he had to respect Ovechkin’s shot while the Finnish defense failed to find Tarasenko who slipped in right behind them.
Not even two minutes later, a lesser known Russian duo connected for a goal. After some established zone time, Russian center Vadim Shipachyov slipped a pass behind Leo Komarov to winger Ivan Telegin just in front of the right hand side of the red crease line who had a clear horizontal lane to the net and out waited a sprawling Rask for an easy top shelf tally. In the previous period, Telegin valiantly blocked a Patrick Laine slapshot on the penalty kill, further proof that goals heel all wounds.
While Finland would go on to out shoot Russia in the period 6-5, it was the Russians who clearly dominated play.
Going into the third period, the Finns were tasked with having to score at least two goals to tie the game, and seeing as they have only scored one goal in the first two games, they knew it was too tall of a task. Any attack they tried to muster either rang off the pipe or was stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky, who probably didn’t break a sweat the entire game.
3:30 into the third period during a 4 on 4 situation, Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who had a very impressive tournament thus far, was fighting for a loose puck in the offensive zone when he was blindsided by the linesman. The massive hit took Ristolainen out of the play, leaving the puck to Alexei Emelin who fed the puck to Evgeni Malkin on a 2-on-1 rush up the ice with lots of space. Malkin, who was held scoreless the first two games of the tournament, came up smooth with the easy wrister past Tuukka Rask making it a 3-0 lead for Team Russia. Given Team Finland’s bone-dry offensive output, the game may as well have ended there.
The Finns would not be able to muster up any significant offense in the remaining 16:21 of play, and Russia was able to silence their critics and live to fight another day. The shot total for the game was 22-21 in favor of the Russians, which is a good indicator of the slow paced tilt.
For Team Finland, who went winless in three games in the tournament, nothing seeme

d to go their way. Expectations were high for the team despite being placed in the tougher of the two groups, largely because of their exciting young talent. The trio of Aleksander Barkov, Sebastian Aho, and last year’s #2 overall pick Patrick Laine were expected to spark the Finnish offense, but none of them even recorded a point in the three games. Despite the putrid performance, and loss to their arch rival Sweden, the future still looks bright for Finland hockey.
As for Team Russia, they will go on to face Team Canada, a team of horrors for them, this coming Saturday at 8 PM Eastern. Russia’s victory today and second place finish in Group B behind Sweden was enough to quiet the critics for now, but another loss to Team Canada will put them right back on the media skillet. If Team Russia will have any hope of beating Canada, they will need the Tarasenko-Ovechkin connection to remain hot while veterans Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk step up their disappointing play. This team has the offensive firepower and stability in net to compete, but an unproven defensive corps could do them in.

 

USA vs. Czech Republic

 

By Sean Ambrosia

Staff Writer

 

Team USA spent most of the 48 hours leading up tonight’s puck drop against the Czech Republic on defense. The team’s top brass has taken fire for a roster selection which valued grit over skill in an attempt to match up against Canada, but which left talent like Phil Kessel watching the tournament at home. Coach John Tortorella has taken flack for some of his bizarre decisions with the team’s lineup, which included scratching Dustin Byfuglien against Team Europe, and pairing Patrick Kane on a line with Justin Abdelkader. Even former USA Hockey players, including members of the ’96 World Cup wining team, took to social media to offer criticism of the team’s performance. This deluge of criticism upped the pressure on the Americans leading into what was an otherwise meaningless game against the Czechs, with both teams having been eliminated earlier in the week. 
 
Though not enough to send them through to semi-final, a convincing win in their final game would have gone a long ways toward vindicating Team USA’s World Cup performance. But a lackluster game against the Czechs, probably the weakest team in tournament, would only compound the criticism of the front office, the coaching staff, and ultimately the players. With these steaks weighing on their minds, Team USA took the Air Canada Centre ice Thursday evening for the final time this World Cup against a Czech team that had been outscored 9-2 in its first two group stage games.
 
While the US came out of the gate with more energy and intensity than they had shown against Canada it was the Czech Republic who grabbed the opening goal of the game at 12:44 of the first period. With a delayed penalty called against the US, Czech Defenseman Zbynek Michalek scored on Ben Bishop. The US responded shortly, tying the game with 5:32 remaining in the first on a Joe Pavelski goal with assists from Patrick Kane and Zach Parise, and the teams headed into the intermission deadlocked at one. In the second period momentum swung in favor of the Czechs, who put up 3 goals in the period. The good night for the Michalek family continued, with Zybnek’s brother Michalek recording two goals in the period, the first at 6:03 of the period, and the second at 17:29. On the American side, forward Justin Abdelkader, whose inclusion on the roster over more highly skilled options was a source of some controversy, scored the team’s second goal midway through the period. The third period belonged to the Americans, who controlled the momentum from the opening faceoff, and managed to close the deficit to one goal on a Ryan McDonagh short handed effort early in the period. Team USA continued to create the majority of the offensive opportunities throughout the remainder of the period, but it was too little too late, as the Czech defense managed to withstand the US offensive attack- including a late period US power play, and handed Team USA their third loss in as many games at this World Cup. 
 
Tonight’s loss leaves Team USA at 0-3 for the tournament, their worst showing in a major international tournament featuring NHL players. With the uncertainty surrounding the negotiation to send NHLers to the 2018 Olympics, it also raises questions about the future of a USA Hockey program which may have to wait four years for their senior men’s team to get a chance to redeem their poor performance. That being said, there is a significant bright spot for the future of the USA Hockey program to be found in the World Cup performance of the young American talent on Team North America. Budding American stars such as Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, and Auston Matthews seem primed to lead the core of a Team USA that could legitimately compete for gold in coming years. For now though, Team USA is left to lick their wounds and assess what went wrong, and NHL fans can at least be consoled by the lack of major injuries to the team’s star players.
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