Russia did not enjoy the most convincing start to this World Championship, not just losing to a Germany team which is far from being the strongest opposition, but failing even to register their first goals of the tournament.

On the eve of the game Russia’s head coach Vyacheslav Bykov announced the roster for the competition, with so far no place in the squad for Alexander Burmistrov, Vasily Koshechkin or Denis Grebeshkov. “We still have time to call up these players,” said the coach, “we’re keeping our finger on the pulse, and we’re also keeping an eye on the Russians in the NHL.”

The morning skate at the arena was cancelled, and in its place the Russian squad chose instead to have a pre-match warm-up on a patch of uneven scrubland near the hotel, in full view of astonished passers-by as passing motorists hooted salutes on their horns. “It was an early game, so we cancelled our session on the ice,” defenseman Ilya Nikulin explained,” but this had no bearing on the result.”

Just as Bykov had promised, Evgeny Nabokov took his place in goal. Any concerns that the goalie was lacking match-fitness proved to be unfounded. Indeed, he saved his team on several occasions, and while some questions remain about his failure to stop the first goal he had little chance of preventing the second. Furthermore, for the opening goal the German player was allowed to shoot unmolested from a dangerous area, raising questions about skaters’ positioning.

The coach will have more serious doubts about the defense, for allowing the opposition to feel quite comfortable in Russia’s zone. Nothing went right in offense either, with a glaring lack of understanding in the lines, and it was no coincidence that at the start of the second period the coaches began making changes to the attacking trios. The feeling lingered that the team’s preparations were not up to scratch, although the players strenuously denied this after the game.

“There was nothing of the kind,” Nikulin assured. “We understood only too well how tough it was for us in last year’s semi-final, so we took our opponents very seriously. The one thing we need to put right is our finishing. We need to be more accurate in front of goal.

Nikulin promised that we will see a lot better from the Russian team in the coming games, and when asked about how he will play alongside Nikolai Belov he replied: “Kolya is always consulting me, we talk a lot about the game, and he grows better from game to game. I explain something to him, and he reacts the right way. I think he’ll do fine.”

It was interesting to see how the attacking lines panned out. For starters, Alexei Kaygorodov was placed alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Morozov while Danis Zaripov, so used to partnering Morozov, was moved to link up with Sergei Zinovyev and Alexander Radulov.

Bykov changed the combinations but to no avail. “So far we’re just lacking understanding,” Morozov confessed, “and the German guys took full advantage of this and played better than we did.”

If we look for positives, we can take comfort from Evgeny Artyukhin’s persistence in battle. His play was certainly tough enough, and yet he incurred no penalties. His partner Maxim Afinogenov was also lively, and a couple of times only sheer bad luck let him down.

“A disappointment,” said Bykov, “that’s the word I’d use to sum up the game. Our performance was too rigid; we weren’t sharp enough around the opposition goal.

The coach remained vague when faced with questions about possible changes to the line-up: “I won’t say yet who’ll be in goal, but I have no complaints about Nabokov. As for complaints about the others, myself included, then I have several.”

The tournament organizers named German goalie Dennis Endras as the player of the game, while Russia’s MVP was judged to be Sergei Zinovyev.

We should perhaps mention a couple of curious facts. Firstly, never before had Russia started a tournament with a defeat. Before today the record read four ties and 15 victories – two of which were inflicted on the Germans. And secondly, it was the first time the team failed to trouble the scoreboard since 2004, and in that championship we languished in 10th place.

Russia’s next opponents in this tournament will be Slovenia.

Nikita Berezhkov and Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru

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