After the first win against Team USA, Igor Larionov switched a bit his lineup, moving Yegor Afanasyev to the first line, with Rodion Amirov and Danil Bashkirov playing with Yegor Chinakhov in the second unit. The move didn't quite pan out, with the Russian forwards struggling to create chances against a tight Czech defense that closed most of the gaps and made things haan excellent counterattacks. Yaroslav Askarov was the starter again for the Russians, and he made 27 stops in his losing effort.
"They played a really solid defensive game, very physically," Team Russia's head coach Igor Larionov said after the game. "We talked to the boys in the locker room; we aren't worried about their efforts, but we need to get closer to the net, create more rebounds and the likes. Askarov has been outstanding, the Czechs scored two good goals, but I have no questions towards our goalie."
Askarov undoubtedly had a great game, but his opponent Lukas Parik was even better, stopping all the 30 shots he faced. Last year, the Czechs also defeated Russia in the WJC's opener with a 4-3 score. Conversely, the last time that the Russians scored no goals in a WJC game was in the 2012 finals lost against Team Sweden. Mostly, the Russians struggled to create chances with the man advantage, wasting five opportunities without making much.
"We have another couple of options in the next couple of games," Larionov said when asked about the team's powerplay. "Hopefully, we'll manage to get some confidence in the game against Austria, with all the respect to our opposition, so that we can get some confidence back and start scoring goals again." The shots count favored Team Russia 30-29, but it didn't mean much in the end.
After only two minutes in the first period, the Russians were already on a powerplay. This time, Mukhamadullin plays the point in a classic three-forward and two-defenseman squad opposed to the four forwards used in the first game. However, the game's first chance is for the Czech Republic, when Yaroslav Askarov saved the Russian crease after a fast counterattack led by Adam Raska. In the second half of the first period, Askarov was busier, but he faced no real dangers even though the Czechs outshot Russia. "In the first period, we needed to get the puck closer to the net and have more good shots," Artemi Knyazev said in the intermission.
The second period started similarly to the first - with the Russians more active in the offensive zone and the Czechs dangerous with counterattacks. After four minutes, Jakub Rychlovsky had a great chance on a breakaway, but Askarov once again managed to save his team with perfect positioning. With the Czechs playing tight defense and the Russians lacking accuracy, the game was still scoreless at the midway mark. At the 13th minute, Knyazev was caught on a kneeing infraction. The Russians killed off the penalty, then controlled the puck in the offensive zone for the next minute, but a fast counterattack by the Czechs after Shakir Mukhamadullin misplayed the puck O-zone allowed Filip Koffer to beat Askarov and break the tie on a quick odd-man rush. "It's never easy to face such an opponent. They played very accurately on defense and then scored us on a counterattack. We need to play in the third period without so many turnovers, and everything will be good," said Chaika in the second intermission.
In the early third period, another mistake by the Russians led to a breakaway finished by Martin Lang for a 2-0 Czech lead. However, the Larionov's troop had a fantastic chance to cut the opposition lead, first when Michal Gut was sent to the sin-bin for high sticking at the seventh minute, and then Simon Kubicek for checking from behind shortly after the first penalty expired. The Russian powerplay left much to be desired and only produced one shot.
"Having two games without goals is a bit worrying; we need to create more quality chances. We may have a bit of shuffling on our roster again, and tomorrow we'll make a decision," - Larionov said after the game.
In the late third period, the coaches recalled Askarov to the bench, and the Russians had another man advantage. Once again, the powerplay didn't work out, and the Czechs could deservedly celebrate their victory.
"We need to create more chances and give crisper passes. It was a good lesson for us, and we'll get better," defenseman Yan Kuznetsov said after the game. "We knew that the Czechs would play such a game. They took a lot of shots on themselves, and we should have created more chances. We also need to play better in our zone."
"We tried hard on the powerplay, but the Czechs closed all the gaps, and their goalie played an excellent game," Yegor Spiridonov told the press. "I also had a chance in the first period, after a pass by Chinakhov, but I failed to take full advantage."
According to Larionov, the team was well-prepared for the game. "The guys knew that it wouldn't have been an easy game," he confirmed. "They did all they could, but it didn't work out. Everyone can have a mistake, but we believe in our team and our players, so now we need to focus on the next games."
In Group B, currently, four teams are tied with three points. Other than Russia and the Czechs, also Sweden and the USA recorded wins, and the fight for the playoffs is now even tenser. In its next game, Team Russia will face newly promoted Team Austria on Tuesday.
Main photo - Codie McLachlan/Getty Sport /GettyImages.ru