Team ROC 2 Denmark 0 (0-0, 1-0, 1-0)
Team ROC posted a second shut-out victory in its Olympic defense in Beijing, defeating Denmark 2-0. However, much like the opening game against Swizterland, the Russian offense struggled to make a big impression against a relatively modest opponent, raising concerns about the more demanding tasks ahead.
Denmark, buoyed by a 2-1 win over Czechia in its opening Olympic appearance, worked hard throughout. In the first period, resolute defense and plenty of blocked shots limited ROC to just four shots in the first 19 minutes. Only in the closing stages of the opening stanza did we see signs of the much-vaunted attacking threat on this roster.
The deadlock was broken midway through the second period. Anton Slepyshev, goalscorer against the Swiss, fired in a shot at 20-year-old netminder Frederik Dichow. That effort was blocked, but Pavel Karnaukhov forced home the rebound at the second attempt.
“The first time it wouldn’t go in, but I got it on the second,” said the CSKA man. “I got a bit lucky.”
“Maybe you could see from the sidelines that after that, the weight came off our shoulders. Of course, it’s easier to play [when you’re ahead].”
And the goalscorer rejected criticism of his colleagues, insisting that there were no complaints among his team-mates. “We all play to the maximum, nobody has any grievances to anyone else,” Karnaukhov added. “It’s wrong, stupid, to say that someone is better or worse. It’s also silly to blame the early start for the performance.”
At the other end, Ivan Fedotov was a virtual spectator. But he had to be alert late in the second period when Jokerit’s Nicklas Jensen broke clear, only be denied by his fellow KHLer.
“It’s nice to get the shut-out but, like I said, the most important games are still to come,” the CSKA netminder said. “Right now, it doesn’t matter if we win 1-0, 2-0 or 5-4 — the most important is to win. It was a good game, not that many shots as against Switzerland, but I tried to keep myself alert. There were times when I needed to be in the game.”
More of those times came late in the play when Denmark began to hope that stout defense might be a platform to seal a result. Niklas Jensen had another big chance midway through the third and, in the closing stages, Ivan Fedotov had to deny Frederik Storm from the slot. But when Dichow left his net, the extra attacker did not help Denmark and Kirill Semyonov killed the game with an empty-netter six seconds before the hooter.
Danish captain Peter Regin said: “The fact is the Russians are just better than us. But we kept hanging around and we had chances to tie it up at the end. Of course the Russians played better and deserved the win, but we stuck to our game plan and tried to get a result. It didn’t quite happen, so we move on to tomorrow’s game against Switzerland.”
Despite back-to-back wins and no goals allowed, team ROC faced criticism for the slender margin of its victories to date. A 1-0 success over Switzerland and today’s 2-0 verdict contrasts unfavorably with the 8-0, 6-2 and 5-1 scorelines produced by Canada, Finland and the USA respectively in yesterday’s play.
Head coach Alexei Zhamnov refused to panic, but admitted his team could deliver more.
“I don’t think we need to hang ourselves because of these games,” he said. “Nothing dreadful happened. But as we go on, we will have games against tougher opposition. The teams will be more skilful. We have to give the Danes their due — they’re a good team, they play quick. I think if they had more skilled players, the ending might have been different today.”
“But when our guys fulfil the gameplan, we will see goals and a better game. It all comes from discipline. We talked to the guys in the locker room, they understand it perfectly well. At the Channel 1 Cup we had goals and all the rest. The guys stuck to the gameplan there.”
And goalie Fedotov is expecting the forwards to make up to a so-far flawless defense as the tournament develops.
“We know that the country is expecting a goal rush from us — the fans want to see 4-0, 5-0, even 10-0,” he added. “But this is the Olympics, every team is playing to win, so there’s a lot of defensive hockey, battling for every centimetre of the ice. Like it or not, we can’t pull off every play every time. The guys put in a lot of effort and emotion, so maybe we need to relax a little, play a bit more calmly. But these guys can score, everything will be fine.”
Czechia 2 Switzerland 1 SO (1-1, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0)
David Krejci potted a shoot-out winner for the Czechs, but team ROC was the big winner in this game. Because these two Group B rivals went into overtime, neither can match the Russians’ six-point tally. Denmark could still tie with the defending champion, but would miss out on top spot due to a head-to-head loss.
Both teams were looking to bounce back after losses in their opening games. As a result, much of this game was cautious. The Czechs got a good start when when Jiri Smejkal struck in the fifth minute, assisted by Neftekhimik’s Lukas Klok and former Admiral man Hynek Zohorna. However, that was soon cancelled out by Gaetan Haas, who tied the scores with Switzerland’s first goal of the Games.
After that, the teams remained deadlocked until the bitter end – and even the shoot-out produced just one goal. That was scored by Krejci, with Avangard goalie Simon Hrubec winning all five of his duels to give Czechia the verdict.
Oddly, last year’s Gagarin Cup winner admits that he isn’t a fan of shoot-outs. “Before the season I did not like them,” he said. “I just talked with my goalie coach and told him I did not have the self-confidence for shoot-outs. I told him we have to figure out how to solve this problem.
“Between practices this season, I had more than 1,000 shoot-outs (attempts on him). We just found a way to do it. Problem solved, I hope. But there are still a lot of holes there.”
Sweden 4 Slovakia 1 (3-0, 0-0, 1-1)
Sweden made it two wins from two in Group C with a comfortable victory over Slovakia. Magnus Hellberg made 40 saves as he got onto the Olympic ice for the first time, and there were goals from CSKA forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Lucas Wallmark.
“It was my first Olympic game, so it was a lot of emotions and excitement,” Hellberg said. “I haven’t played a game in almost one month. It was a lot of fun out there. I think we did a really good job as a team. The guys really helped me a lot.”
Nordstrom opened the scoring midway through the first period, firing into a wide open net after Dinamo Minsk’s Lukas Bengtsson deceived the Slovak defense. Wallmark doubled the lead late in the first period, finding the target on a 5-on-3 power play to record his third goal of the tournament. Max Friberg added a third seconds before the hooter when he redirected a Philip Holm point shot into the Slovak net.
Wallmark, who is currently tied with Finland’s Sakari Manninen, USA’s Sean Farrell and Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovsky on three goals at the top of the goalscoring race, is enjoying himself in Beijing. “I’m playing with good players, that helps a lot,” he said of his productive start. “We won the puck in the offensive zone and I just tried to find the net and when you play with good players it makes it a lot easier.”
Slovakia sent Dinamo Minsk goalie Patrik Rybar into the game for the second period, and he made a good save to deny his clubmate Bengtsson as Sweden looked to extend its lead. Although the Slovaks had more of the play, with Peter Cehlarik and Marek Hrivik posing an intermittent threat, there was no more scoring until the closing minutes. Then Carl Klingberg’s empty-netter extended the Swedish lead before 17-year-old prodigy Juraj Slafkovsky notched his third of the Games as a late consolation effort.
Friday brought the first two games in the Women’s quarter finals. Team USA had to come from behind to beat Czechia 4-1 and continue its title defense. Later in the day, Canada faces Sweden.
Team ROC plays Switzerland tomorrow in its quarter-final tie, looking for a repeat of its 5-2 victory in the group stage.