On the strength of a third period goal by Vladimir Tkachyov, Russia edged past the United States 2-1 in a critical Group B clash at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
It was a strong performance by the Us for the most part, as they looked to be every bit the equals of the highly talented hosts. But in this short tournament and in this "group of death," every point is crucial and a good performance isn't quite enough to shake off the sting of dropping all three points.
The Americans came out buzzing the Russian net and mostly controlling the game early in the first, but a wave of unnecessary penalties opened the door for Russia's potent power play. Albert Yarullin made the US pay 2:42 into the game with a power play tally and from there, the Americans were chasing the game. The US managed to outshoot Russia in the first period despite taking four penalties.
After a number of strong shifts, the US finally tied it up with a power play goal of their own in the second period, a big blast by Jacob Trouba at 13:18. Alex Galchenyuk continued his hot start to the tournament by picking up an assist on Trouba's goal (man, I'm going to hate that guy if the NHL ever comes back and he starts playing for Montreal).
Russia took the advantage back 4:10 into the third on Tkachyov's goal and never looked back, sustaining a late US flurry including a power play in the final two minutes with the net empty to eke out the big win.
Johnny Gaudreau appears to be gripping his stick a little tight at this point, as despite putting himself in some good positions and creating chances, he has been unable to find the back of the net. Gaudreau had a great chance to score in the opening minutes of the game, going to the net hard on a 2-on-1 and nearly stuffing one home before Andrei Makarov flashed his left pad and straight-up robbed him; if that puck goes in the net, the Us leads, and Gaudreau & the US's whole game probably goes a lot differently.
Late in the game as the Gaudreau-Rocco Grimaldi-JT Miller line continued to put in a good effort without seeing results, Gaudreau made a few uncharacteristic whiffs in the late-game scramble that seemed to stem from frustration - missing a long breakout pass intended to stretch him behind the Russian D, getting broken up while carrying the puck in to the Russian zone with under 90 seconds to go, and missing Rocco Grimaldi with an attempted drop-pass in the US's final rush up ice before time expired.
Confidence is obviously a huge part of hockey, and we see how much of a game-changer Gaudreau is when he's on a roll; hopefully his line gets a good bounce early in the Canada game on Sunday because if they do, I think more goals will shortly follow.
Rocco Grimaldi was a lot of fun to watch for the US today; North Dakota's star forward really would've looked great in maroon and gold. He reminds me a little bit of Brian Gibbons in that he is a great leader and plays with an edge, with all-out effort all the time. He made some great plays busting back defensively to break up Russian chances. He deserves to get on the board as well.
We are now officialy in to the business end of this tournament. The US gets tomorrow off, then plays Canada and Slovakia on back-to-back days Sunday and Monday - Sunday at 4:30 AM, Monday at 5 AM. With today's loss, it becomes very very important to pick up at least one or two points against the high-flying Canadians, as the Americans will be in a bit of a spot come Sunday barring crazy upsets. Russia and Slovakia still have games to play against Germany, which they will likely win with ease, putting them at 8 points & 4 points, respectively. Canada is sitting on 6, while the US has 3. With the top 3 teams advancing, the Us obviously needs more points.
The good news is that even if the US loses to Canada, worst case scenario is controlling their own fate in Monday's game against Slovakia, with a "Win and you're in" situation. But let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Conventional wisdom has been that the Group B teams really want to avoid finishing 3rd and having to face Sweden or Finland in the quarterfinals, but after a topsy-turvy day in Group A, that race appears wide open right now. As I mentioned earlier, Finland was shocked by the Czech Republic 3-1; in the later game, Switzerland managed to force a shootout against defending champ Sweden and earned a point despite losing the shootout.
Group A Standings:
Sweden: 1-0-1-0, 5 pts., +4 GD
Switzerland: 1-0-0-1, 4 pts., +4 GD
Czech Republic: 1-1-0-0, 3 pts., -1 GD
Finland: 1-1-0-0, 3 pts., +2 GD
Latvia: 0-2-0-0, 0 pts. -9 GD
Group B Standings:
Canada: 2-0-0-0, 6 pts., +9 GD
Russia: 1-0-1-0, 5 pts,. +2 GD
USA: 1-1-0-0, 3 pts., +7 GD
Slovakia: 0-1-0-1, 1 pt., -4 GD
Germany: 0-2-0-0, 0 pts, -14 GD
7 AM - Sweden vs. Latvia
9 AM - Russia vs. Germany