Russia had previously only lost two world championship games under Vyacheslav Bykov - the semi-final in Moscow in 2007 and last year’s final - but today in Bratislava the national team suffered what was already its third defeat of the tournament. “We’re making progress,” Bykov said with a wry smile.
Despite the smile, the head coach’s voice was somber, and he began with some scathing criticism of his players: “We have been really bad in power play,” he remarked. “There’s nothing good about our play with the man advantage. We’ll try to come up with something in the next couple of days, but at the moment it’s all bad.”
At the same time, Bykov did find some words of praise for the team’s performance: “We weren’t so bad in the second and third periods, created a lot of scoring chances but we couldn’t turn them into goals. This is a serious problem.”
It was by far Russia’s best start so far in the tournament. Two early goals panicked the Finns into replacing Ak Bars goalie Petri Vehanen with new Metallurg Novokuznetsk recruit Teemu Lassila. “I’m ecstatic that I’ll play at Metallurg Novokuznetsk next season,” said the keeper after the game. “The talks went on for over a month but turned out well in the end. I’ve never been there. I kind of know how far away it is. My agent told me a lot about the place. I searched the internet for information, saw some pictures, and it all suits me fine. I’m happy we signed the contract.”
After that episode, everything fell apart for the Russians. The Finns clawed their way back to level the score and for the remainder of the game kept Russia’s marauding attackers at bay, albeit with some difficulty.
“You needed three points, so why on earth didn’t you pull the goalie for the closing minutes?” was Bykov asked.
“We couldn’t even get hold of the puck, so there was no sense in pulling Konstantin Barulin.”
Barulin himself drew some flak for his performance in the shoot-out. “Kostya needs to learn how the opposition shoots. That guy (Mikko) Koivu always takes his penalty shots the same way,” the coach noted.
The defeat at the hands of the Finns leaves Russia languishing in fourth place in the group standings, meaning their opponents in the quarters will be the team which tops the other group. The players did not seem too distraught at the situation. “It seems to me it would be better to play the Canadians than the Norwegians,” was Alexander Ovechkin’s view. “With Canada, it will all be plain and simple.”
Ovechkin had an excellent chance to fire Russia ahead, but failed to finish in a one-on-one with Lassila. “I’m to blame,” the forward admitted, “I played it wrong, held the stick wrong, and the chance disappeared.”
Ovechkin allowed himself a couple more questions, and was then on his way. As for the other players, they were just as reluctant to get over-excited by the fourth-placed finish.
“I have to admit, I don’t even know what time the Swiss and the Canadians are playing today, and I don’t care who our next opponents will be,” said defenseman Ilya Nikulin, “and what’s more, it makes no difference, since it’s now the play-offs and in that situation any opponent becomes a main rival. It’s hard to say who you’d prefer. Both the Norwegians and the Germans will be in the quarters, and who could’ve predicted that?”
Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru