Russia’s finest are still having trouble finding their feet in this tournament, and this encounter with Slovenia turned out to be a lot tougher than expected. This raised several eyebrows, since following the defeat to Germany both the coaching and playing staff promised to show that the stuttering start was little more than a freak occurrence. And a contest against a team of Slovenia’s level seemed the ideal opportunity to put those words into practice.
Only in the middle of the third period did Russia manage to pressure the Slovenes. As for the previous two periods, it would be better to forget them as quickly as possible. Or to be more precise, forget them after first conducting a full inquest into the poor defensive play and toothless finishing.
Nonetheless, Vyacheslav Bykov had rung the changes, not wanting to risk falling into the same trap laid by the Germans. He resurrected the trio of Danis Zaripov – Sergei Zinovyev – Alexei Morozov, by far the strongest line in the country a few years ago. Zinovyev, however, had not partnered the other two for some time, and so it would have been unrealistic to expect the combination to produce instant results.
Alexei Tereshchenko was placed in the center, flanked by Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov, but this trio did not last the game. In only the sixth minute Alexei was on the receiving end of a vicious hit, leaving him struggling to limp back to the changing room. In spite of the blatantly illegal challenge, Robert Sabolic strangely escaped punishment by the referee.
The latest information on Tereshchenko is he was sent to hospital for a more precise diagnosis, but we should prepare for the worst. The word in Bratislava is that Alexei said his knee hurt on three sides. Even more ominous is that it is the same leg on which the center had an operation just six months back.
After Tereshchenko’s injury, all was clearly not right with the team. Alexei Yemelin clumsily fouled Ziga Jeglic, sending him hurtling into the boards, and was duly handed a game misconduct. This episode came not long after Sergei Zinovyev had incurred a minor penalty. On the plus side, it was comforting that the Russians twice managed to kill a penalty playing 3-on-5, but on the other hand giving the opposition a double advantage twice in one game (there was a similar episode later) is a luxury they can scarcely afford.
Russia finished the first period with a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from Vitaly Atyushov, but Slovenia refused to lie down. Nor did they fall apart in the third period when Vyacheslav Bykov’s men enjoyed a 4-2 advantage. The Slovenes clawed their way back to pull level with the Russians and only the individual skills of Radulov and Zinovyev, with a goal each in the final four minutes, prevented another sensational defeat. The shot count, however, was far from being in Russia’s favor: 25 – 35.
After the game, head coach Vyacheslav Bykov was critical of his players, but cheered by the win: “Alexei Yemelin let the side down with that foul. I wouldn’t be surprised if they hit him with a five-match ban. As for the game itself, it was lively and tense but we won it and we’ll keep on battling. I wouldn’t call the Slovenes weak opposition – they showed some good team play.”
After the first two games Russian team has allowed 6 goals against opponents who on paper would not even be listed among the medal contenders, lost a center, and lost a defenseman for however long Yemelin’s disqualification will run. Next up is a clash with the championship hosts, Slovakia.
Alexei Shevchenko, special to khl.ru