The final score flattered the American team on Thursday night; Team USA suffered its second defeat in two games at the World cup of Hockey as the Russian squad put them away rather handily 3-1 at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Centre.
Hockey fans found a strong, young and fast squad in Russian colours, a squad that showed many who felt that Russian hockey was in turmoil, that this is a team not quite ready to just roll over and say maybe next time. The Russian contingent is made up of many younger players who as Alexi Kovalev said can skate for 120 hours, on this night they only really needed 60 minutes. They more than dominated the play for most of the game, showing glimpses of the high flying teams of years gone by.
Robert Esche the American goaltender was all that stood between the American team and complete disaster, as he battled off wave after wave of Russian skaters, keeping 42 shots out of the American net. The USA could only muster 21 shots in the Russian end of the rink with only one making it past Illya Bryzgalov in the Russian net.
For the Americans the game highlighted some of the concerns that people had about them from the beginning of training camp. Age may be catching up to the boys from the USA, for most of the game it appeared as though they were perpetually chasing the Russian skaters to all corners of the rink, not being able to control or catch them led to high levels of frustration during the game. The most undisciplined player of the night was Keith Tkachuk, how made more than one boneheaded play in this game, taking runs at Russians after the whistle, heading into the boards and hitting from behind and wielding his elbows at almost every opportunity. Tkachuk’s loss of composure resulted in more than a few short handed situations. And while Tkachuk did gain the only goal for the American squad, it was his selfish play at times, that cost them valuable time on the clock as he sat out minor and major penalties through the last half of the game, making Esche’s job in the nets that much harder.
For his hard work Esche is expected to be allowed to sit out the Americans next game against Slovakia on Friday night, a must win game if the Americans hope to recover some of their swagger. USA coach Ron Wilson says some key line up changes will be made, possibly leaving some rather well know American names up in the sky box, as he tries to find the combination that will not only score goals but help prevent the opposition from filling the net. To a man the Americans felt they were embarrassed and did not play up to their potential, with a record of 0 and 2 they need to find that potential rather quickly.
Scoring for Russia were Dainius Zubrus, who received credit for a goal from a pass that went off of Chris Chelios’ leg. Alexei Kovalev and Victor Kozlov rounded out the scoring for the victorious Russians.
They next go back to work on Saturday night when they take on Team Canada in Toronto at the Air Canada centre. A solid Russian performance in that game will serve up another two points for the Russian team, and will show Canada that Russian hockey is back and ready to resume the rivalry! As the Russians get their bearings in the tournament they may prove to be the more troublesome squads when we get to the final four candidates for the World Cup.