Russia finishes last in Helsinki
Karjala Cup review
NOV. 11 -- Russian National Team concluded it's erratic showing at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki ranking dead last out of four, with just two points to show for three games.
Vladimir Plyuschev's side scored just five times in the tournament and has only nine goals in six Euro-Tour games this season. Seven of those came in two wins against the Czech Republic. Moreover all three of Russia's wins this season came against those same Czechs.
Team coached by Slavomir Lener is in the middle of transition and rebuilding process. Lener tried a variety of players in two Euro-Tour stages since the beginning of the season and it seems his team is yet to discover its face. Czech Republic is probably the slowest team out of the big four and in all of it's games against Russia this season Lener's squad has been rather outskated and outworked than outplayed.
Plyuschev's claim to get away from defence-minded approach and restore old style Soviet offense oriented hockey in the national program has been somewhat jeopardized by team's poor results and unthoughtfull play.
There are, however, a few things that former KGB serviceman improved since taking over the national squad. Passion, desire, grit and fast game pace are among those.
Parting with veterans like Maxim Sushinsky, Valery Karpov, Alexander Prokopiev and Andrei Razin (Captain Andrei Kovalenko gotta be the next to go!) and adding surging youngsters like Alex Perezhogin, Sergei Zinoviev, Denis Grebeshkov, Sergei Soin and Igor Grigorenko, at least from my standpoint, was a great move! Vets mentioned above often projected sights of indifference, repletion and looserness. While young blood added so much needed hunger and speed.
Critics back in Russia (mostly of them are a core of aging Soviet school coaches that haven't won anything in ages) keep on whining about how Plyuschev's team could use some of those veterans. Vets that by the way, had a "strong" hand in Russian hockey loosing its image over the last decade. But than again - same gang trashed Slava Fetisov prior to the Salt-Lake City Olympics...
Critics shall take a dive into dung. As the Karjala Cup proved them wrong. Youngsters (perhaps with the exception of Alex Suglobov, who had a poor tournament) were the ones to lead and vets the ones to struggle. Zinoviev, Grigorenko, Perezhogin, Soin and Anton But were constant threat up-front, while Fedor Tyutin provided sound effort at the back. Meantime Kovalenko, Alexei Chupin and Roman Kukhtinov couldn't lead by example and failed to deliver overall.
The instant evolution is yet to pay dividends. As it seems now - victory by a margin at Czeske Pojstovna Cup was no more than a pleasant illusion. What really happened there was pretty much same drawing we saw in Finland. Dominant performance against the Czechs, followed by uncomprehensive showings against sparky Finns and gritty Swedes. The only difference to a September tournament came in less than stellar goaltending from Maxim Sokolov and obvious lack of discipline.
As mentioned above, the new Russian team plays much faster and open hockey. But often that speed lacks creativity and wisdom. Special teams have been probably the weakest link in Plyuschev's squad. In Helsinki power play produced just one goal in 16 opportunities, while seven of eleven goals against came when Russia was a man short. Russian forwards haven't been noticed for their opportunism as well. Russians create a few great chances game in, game out but fail on outrageous majority of those.
Nevertheless, Plyuschev has plenty of time to put together a solid team for the World Championships. He's heading in the right direction. Experimenting at the Euro-Tour stages is the right thing to do, despite constant attacks from the media and colleagues, who seem to forget that previous Russian sides traditionally fared poorly in same competition.
It's not like Plyuschev finds himself in that kind of situation for the first time. Last year prior to and during the WJC he was trashed by fans and media for pretty much same reasons: questioned selection, lack of discipline of his players etc. But he ended up winning the gold. Although, must admit, I often question Vladimir Plyuschev's coaching skills. No question, Plyuschev is a great manager! He seems to get well along with players and is a great motivator. He also has some admirable stands regarding selection and around game aspects, but I've yet to discover him as a gifted tactician and strategist. Thus far Plyuschev has been lucky enough to coach teams full of talent - which may explain his previous achievements. But as they say in Russia: the strongest one is always the luckiest.
SHORT GAME RECAPS
Sweden - Russia 3-1
Russia played without disqualified for first game's infractions Zinoviev and Vladislav Bulyin. Ak Bars' Denis Platonov made his debut in National squad on the right of Grigorenko and Ruslan Nurtdinov.
In the opening period well organized Tre Kronor dominated outshooting Russia 9-3 and taking one goal lead on a freak goal by Nichlas Falk. Falk's shot from the blue line deflected off Sergei Gusev and slipped past Sokolov, who appeared to lose his focus on the play.
Russia equalized early in the second period. Nepryaev won an offensive zone face-off and Tyutin blasted in a powerful shot from the blue line. Right away Nepryaev took a holding penalty and Thomas Rhodin restored Sweden's lead a minute later. Jari Tolsa added third tally with less than a minute to play in the second period after Grebeshkov's positioning mistake resulted in two-on-one rush for Scandinavians.
Plyuschev's squad failed to capitalize on several good chances in the final period, including three break-away opportunities.
Russia - Czech Republic 4-3 (OT)
Russia gave its best effort of the tournament in the final game against the Czechs. Vladimir Plyuschev's side outshot the opposition 13-7 in the opening period and took, what appeared to be, a comfortable two-goal lead. Zinoviev got his first goal of the game at 9:03. At 15:17 Russia scored its only Power Play goal of the tournament - Grebeshkov productively moved into the slot. Unfortunately Kings' prospect was benched for the rest of the game after he gave the puck away to Radek Duda which resolved in Czech Republic's first goal 23 seconds into second period.
Josef Beranek and Frantisek Kucera scored back-to-back power play tallies to give their team a 3-2 lead. However Zinoviev's short-handed effort midway through third period pulled team back at even.
Andrei Kovalenko scored the winner 18 seconds into the OT period. Russian captain beat veteran Petr Briza with a powerful blast from 40 feet out.
U-20, U-17 TEAMS WIN THEIR TOURNEYS
Russian U-20 and U-17 sides won its Four Nations tournaments in Czech Republic and Slovakia respectively.
The U-20 team won all of it three matches, beating Finland 6-5 (in OT), Czech Republic 5-3 and Sweden 4-3. Yuri Trubachev (4g) and Alexander Ovechkin (2g) led the team in scoring with seven points each. Both had a strong tournament, albeit Ovechkin wasn't exactly on top of his game. He seemed a bit tired from Superleague action. Nikolai Zherdev had a sub-par tournament with no goals and three helpers in three games.
The U-20 team is coached by former SKA head coach Rafail Ishmatov, who has been know for conservative approach towards the game a bit like former U-20 boss Petr Vorobiev. But in Pardubice Russia played quite wreckless defensively and Ishmatov often gave his players green light to exhibit their great offensive abilities.
Russia's U-17 team outpowered its opponents in Slovakia, winning in all of three games (7-3 vs Czechs, 10-2 vs Germans and 5-3 vs Slovakia).
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RSL TRANSACTIONS UPDATE
MOSCOW SPARTAK traded F Pavel Agarkov (DET) to Sibir Novosibirsk for C Sergei Solomatov. Agarkov had two goals in seven games for Moscow side before being suspended for substance abuse. 27-year old veteran was drafted 153rd overall by Detroit in 1994. Solomatov has 2 goals and 4 points in 13 games with Sibir this season.
SIBIR NOVOSIBIRSK acquired C Dmitry Nabokov from METALLURG NOVOKUZNETSK on loan basis until the end of the season. Siberian side also acquired ForwardsAnton Kurianov from AVANGARD OMSK and Stanislav Romanov. Romanov begun the season in Moscow's KRYLIA SOVETOV.
LA Kings' prospect G Alexei Volkov signed one-year deal with DINAMO MOSCOW. Last season Volkov played in Ufa and posted 2,17 GAA with 4 shut-outs in 28 games. Dinamo also traded the rights to RW Viktor Gordiyuk to KRYLIA SOVETOV MOSCOW. In 9 games with the blue-and-white Gordiyuk had two asists.
Detroit draftee F Dmitry Semenov was loaned to METALLURG NOVOKUZNETSK by SPARTAK for a month-long try-out.
CSKA MOSCOW traded G Oleg Shvetsov to MECHEL CHELYABINSK.
AVANGARD OMSK signed D Jiri Slegr to a one-year contract. 31 year-old Slegr won his only Stanley Cup with Detroit Red Wings last June. In 573 NHL games Slegr scored 48 goals and added 175 assists.
-- Max Dostoevsky