It should have never gotten to this point (IIHF)

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but wasn’t Russia, with its wealth of super-talented forwards and its excellent goaltenders and competent defenders and the whole advantage that’s supposed to come from hosting this tournament, meant to be the team to beat? So why, then, does it struggle so mightily against, oh I don’t know, every team it has played in this entire tournament save for the lowly Germans, who look primed for yet another relegation? The problem reared its ugly head again today for the Russians when they needed a shootout, an actual shootout, to beat Switzerland 4-3, and really required a fair bit of luck to even get that far.

Just how bad was the Russians’ performance today? Well, the Swiss outshot them 44-36, which you gotta figure is, like, not good. That includes getting outshot 13-8 and 16-9 in the second and third periods, respectively. In fact, the Russians only got things going with an 8-4 shooting advantage in OT because of hooking penalty on Christian Marti that gave them a 4-on-3 for two minutes.

And it’s not like things didn’t start well enough for Russia, as they got a goal and two power plays in the first 10 minutes of the game. But on that second one, Cristoph Bertschy scored a shorthanded goal, because why wouldn’t he? The teams traded goals again in the second period as well, and through 40 minutes, it was 2-2, and I doubt too many people would have said that would be the case headed into this one. I might attribute some of it to Eliot Antonietti’s backchecking, because he singlehandedly broke up a pair of full-on Russian breakaways as clean as you like. The third time, though, he took a hooking penalty.

As the third period went on, things stayed oddly — or, from the Russian point of view, uncomfortably — tight. Then, thanks to a Sven Andrighetto goal at 8:57, Switzerland led 3-2 right up until the end of the third period. Then Andrighetto (great Elvis song, by the way) took a dumbass slashing penalty and Nikita Kucherov pumped home a power play goal with all of 1:36 remaining. They also hit the post in the dying seconds.

But despite the power play in overtime, they needed a shootout to beat Switzerland. All three shooters from both teams failed to score (all three Swiss guys missed the net, in fact, despite what the box score says), then Mikhail Grigorenko finally netted one to put a little pressure on Alessio Bertaggia, who likewise scored.  Then it fell to Kucherov, who dutifully performed a very pretty move to beat Melvin Nyffeler.

At was at this point that the Swiss coach, Sean Simpson, may or may not have lost his team the game. Thanks to a bad quirk of IIHF rules, once you get past the first three rounds of the shootout, you can use the same guy over and over and over again, and Simpson did just that with Bertaggia. I get the logic: He was the only guy who even put the puck on net in the first four rounds, so why not go back to him? Well, it didn’t work out, and Andrei Vasilevski won his team the game in a skills competition in which he actually made just one save on five shot attempts. Gripping stuff. The shootout is great.

But the consequences of all this, plus the Russians’ first four games, are interesting. You hate to use the word “enigmatic” — well, unless you’re a member of the Canadian media looking to gin up anti-Russian sentiment — but what’s been going with these hosts just doesn’t make a lot of sense from a logical standpoint. While anyone who would have told you they’re the best team in the tournament was just doing so to sandbag Canada, they’re still really, really good. They shouldn’t have games against Slovakia going 3-2, or games against the Swiss going 4-3 in a shootout. They’re much, much better than this. And after a terribly narrow win against a US team that flat-out refused to score, and a 4-1 embarrassment on home ice against the Canadians, one has to wonder just what’s going on with these guys. Their only good result (a 7-0 win) came against Germany, which left the preliminary round with a minus-22 goal differential, worst in the tournament.

Lots of questions to ask, then, about whether this team is actually any good when compared with the big boys of the tournament. Tomorrow’s game with Sweden looms particularly large, considering they were the best team in Group A. Playing anything like this is going to result in a loss. Period.

USA 7, Czech Republic 0

There’s a lot to be said for “peaking at the right time,” according to all American hockey fans right now today. After defensive lapses (by Seth Jones) and a total lack of scoring (from the top line) cost them 2-1 games against the Russians and Canadians, the US seems to have decided that it would indeed start scoring after all.

With today’s win — and granted, neither this nor the one that preceded it was against any kind of great opponent — the Americans have now outscored their opponents 16-3 over the last 120 minutes of hockey, and that’s a lot of goals. More encouraging, though, is that they’re actually making teams pay for committing penalties, and they’re drawing a lot more of them to boot. The US scored five power play goals to go with the four it netted against Slovakia to close out the preliminary round. That comes after scoring just three in their first three games, despite being given myriad opportunities.

What the US might like most, though, is that the top line is finally clicking after being absent through the end of the Canada game. Johnny Gaudreau had a hat trick today, and now has 5-1-6 in his last two games. That’s after starting the tournament 0-fer. JT Miller, likewise, has 1-4-5.

Jacob Trouba, by the way, is now third in the tournament in scoring, thanks to a four-assist game today. He’s up to 4-4-8 and trails only Markus Granlund (nine points) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (11), and the next-closest defenseman in the totals is Jones, who has 1-6-7.

Sets up a pretty interesting rematch with a little country called Canada. From an informal glance at Twitter, it seems the Canadians aren’t talkin’ quite so loud about that 2-1 win after the Americans’ offensive outburst of the last two games.

Finland 8, Germany 0

It’s the relegation round. Germany is garbage and Finland should have finished in the top three in its group to begin with. Who cares?

Comments (6)

  1. The bigger problem for the Russians is that they had the two best skaters on the ice in Grigorenko and Kucherov and the team as a whole still got wildly outplayed. I hate to pass judgment of players based on a small sample size, but Nail Yakupov looked plainly average in the first and third and I only saw him get a couple of good scoring chances once in the third and once in OT.

    Another thing to consider with the Russians is that games other than Canada don’t mean particularly a whole lot. One thing my Russian hockey reporter buddy has stressed to me is that while other teams want to win the tournament, Russia’s success or failure is determinant on whether they beat Canada. They’re liable to bad performances in the medal rounds against other teams. They looked awful in last year’s gold medal game, save an excellent performance from Andrey Makarov. They were terrible against the Swiss in 2010 and barely scraped through the quarters and semis in 2011 on way to victory in the gold game.

    • “Russia’s success or failure is determinant on whether they beat Canada”

      That’s odd. I mean, makes sense they want to beat us, but you think the ultimate rub-our-noses-in-it would be for them to win Gold, regardless of who they play against. Interesting…

  2. So I will admit that I have not watched any games; but given that the Swiss gave trouble to every team they played; is it fair to say that they’re a decent team, and that maybe Swiss hockey is developing?

    • For sure, but Russia, on home ice, as a potential favorite in this tournament, shouldn’t need a shootout to beat them just yet.

  3. I don’t really know what to think when I look at the American’s last 2 games. On the one hand, they scored alot of goals, which could suggest they’re finding a bit of a groove, but the oponents weren’t exactly world beaters, so is it really that significant? Plus, it’s not like Canada has plateaued at the same time…we’ve been improving too. That was a strong game against Russia.

    I’m sure it’s going to be a close one though, again…with Canada squeezing past with the win. : )

  4. You pointed out that the US drew a lot of penalties against the Czech Republic, but they also got called for 10 minor penalties. Really, the reffing in that game was just plain bad, with a few phantom calls and a lot of soft calls both ways. It’s hard to give the US credit for drawing penalties when all it took was getting touched by an opponent’s stick.

    That said, the US powerplay looked dangerous. Canada will need to be careful about staying out of the box.

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