Undisciplined Russians trashed by Suomi
Karjala Cup game recap

Photo (C) Sport-ExpressNov. 8, HELSINKI -- Led by Kari Lehtonen's 19 save performance Finland trashed Russia 5-0 in Tournament's opening game. Finland scored four times with two-men advantage in the third period to deliver Vladimir Pluschev his first major blow as Russia's head coach.

Over the first two periods opponents skated at high pace and competed quite evenly at even-strenght. Russia failed to capitalize on six straight power plays and couldn't solve strong-looking Lehtonen despite creating some good opportunities. Moreover Russians were missing the net on better of their chances and were reluctant to shoot the puck on the PP. Russia's forwards maintained high tempo throughout the game but lacked team chemistry and imagination in offensive zone.

Russian netminder Maxim Sokolov put together strong outing as well. Before his teammates went for parade to the penalty box, Sokolov managed to stop all but one of Finland's 18 shots - at 13:40 Jukka Hentunen gave Finland the lead.

Than the parade begun... By the of the second period Russians had Vitaly Proshkin and Ivan Tkachenko serving minor and double-minor penalties respectively, while captain Andrei Kovalenko was given 10 minutes misconduct for abusive language towards the linesman. Object of Kovalenko's frustration was understandable as veteran was brought down on a short-handed (3 vs 5 !) break-away without any further action against his offender.

Officiating was weird to say the least. It seemed that after giving Russia six straight PP Swedish referee Ulf Rådbjer decided to level the score. While consistently and rightly punishing Russians, the ref totally ignored roughing and stick-work on the Finnish part. That drew the Russians nuts and they failed badly at controlling their frustration (which unfortunately becomes charasteritic for Plyuschev's teams). At 1:09 Vladislav Bulyin received a major and a game misconduct for head-punching Finnish player, fifty seconds later Sergei Zinoviev took a wild charge smashing his opponent against the boards and was asserted same penalty as Bulyin. That, so to speak, set the Home side for two man advantage for almost eight minutes. Hannu Aravirta's squad prevailed productively adding four tallies in a five minutes span and basically solving game's outcome.

After the game Plyuschev blamed the officiating, ignoring the obvious: his players failed on it's chances and were unable to stay in control.

Notes: Alex Perezhogin (MTL) and Igor Grigorenko (DET) were by far Russia's best forwards - always dangerous and intense... Anton But (TB) missed on several great chances - it simply wasn't his night... Denis Grebeshkov (LA) had a sound game in his own end... The worst performance came from NJ's Alex Suglobov. Devils' prospect seemed rusty and out of sync. He often failed to read Perezhogin's and (Ivan) Nepryaev's actions.


In other Thursday's game Czech Republic easily disposed of Sweden 5-2. Radek Duda, Vaclav Pletka, Jaroslav Hlinka, Peter Sykora and Pavel Kolarik scored in winning cause. Magnus Johansson and Peter Nordström tallied for Sweden.

On Friday Russian U-20 team defeated Finland in overtime 6-5. Alexander Ovechkin scored the decisive tally. Igor Mirnov, Alex Semin, Alex Polushin, Igor Volkov and Yuri Trubachev also scored for Russia, while Tuomo Ruutu (twice), Jusi Timmonen, Mikko Koivu and Sean Bergenheim tallied for Finland. Unfortunately I failed to arrive in time for the contest missing my flight in Helsinki.

-- Max Dostoevsky (HELSINKI - PARDUBICE)