Thursday, September 02, 2004
With just under nine minutes left in the first period, the USA was on a power play and two of their shots never got to the net thanks to the blocking ability of Darius Kasparaitis and Oleg Tverdovsky.
Not long after, Sergei Samsonov saw a wide open net on the far side, but shot wide.
On a Russian power play opportunity, Robert Esche made a pad save on Alexei Kovalev. With nine seconds left in the penalty, Esche gloved a shot from Alexei Yashin.
A bit later, John-Michael Liles coughed up the puck and Maxim Afinogenov raced down the ice and had his shot stopped by Esche. Vyacheslav (some call him Slava) Kozlov pounced on the rebound and took a hack, but Esche got his blocker on it. Afinogenov was also part of another Russian threat, as he and Artem Chubarov (Canuck off the rebound) put up shots on Esche with under a minute left and were once again stuffed.
The USA also got a couple of good chances from Jason Blake and Tony Amonte, both of which were disposed of by Ilya Bryzgalov, head adorned with a Mighty Duck helmet. It was a mean duck, too, meaner than the one on the uniforms. Looked like Mighty Duck mixed with Eddie the Iron Maiden mascot.
Former Canuck GM and current CBC analyst Brian Burke said the USA got away with a bad period, and that he expected a lot more from the crowd, which didn't warm up until halfway through the period. Kelly Hrudey raved about how he saw Esche at practice and he seemed really relaxed. Hrudey thought Team USA would eventually bounce back from the first period, and also thought that Maxim Afinogenov was the best player on the ice in the period. Burke said that Afinogenov skates like Pavel Bure. Hrudey said that Russians have a tendency to want to beat people one-on-one too much. Also pointed out by the crew was how two of the USA's faceoffs in the defensive zone were coughed up and led directly to scoring chances.
What it basically comes down to, though, is that Robert Esche can stand on his head every night, but Team USA can't depend on that.
Oh yeah, Russia outshot the USA by a margin of 16-4 in the period.
The USA got a power play early in the period, but weren't successful. Bill Guerin, Brett Hull, and Mike Modano (gloved) all couldn't solve Bryzgalov.
The Russians had a couple chances from Oleg Kvasha about five minutes in, who had a clear path to the net, and Pavel Datsyuk, who was victim of the toe save, the 20th overall save for Esche.
Scott Gomez was stopped on a shot just inside the blueline about eight minutes in.
A key defensive play by the USA kept the game scoreless. Afinogenov raced down the ice on a breakaway but some grunt work from Brian Rafalski preventing any legitimate scoring opportunity. At least for a couple of minutes.
Datsyuk centered a pass to Andrei Kovalenko, who was robbed by Esche. But with 7:32 left in the period, Daniel Zubrus had Liles beat behind the net. Zubrus made a wraparound move, and centered a pass. The pass went off Chris Chelios' skate and into the net (RUS 1-0). A fluky goal for sure.
The Russian lead only lasted for all of 84 seconds, though. On a power play, Modano made a pass from the right circle through the legs of the defenseman and onto the tape of Keith Tkachuk's stick. Tkachuk beat Bryzgalov to tie the score at 1-1.
Other scoring chances included a blast off the faceoff by Ilya Kovalchuk that Esche stoned, as well as a pad save by Bryzgalov on Hull.
There was sort of a weird play toward the end of the period, as Bryzgalov put the puck into the crowd, a delay of game penalty. The crew thought that Kasparaitis getting burned repeatedly had something to do with it.
Then came the best goal of the tournament so far, and the best goal I've seen in a while. The play started when Chelios was aggressive on the pinch in his own end and turned the puck over. Right after coughing up the puck, he fell into and took out fellow defenseman Jason Blake on the play. That left Tony Amonte skating backward as the last line of defense against Alexei Kovalev streaking down the ice. Kovalev put the deke of a lifetime on Amonte, and shot from a sharp angle to beat Esche high on the corner to the glove side.
About 7:30 into the period, Oleg Kvasha was stopped by Esche on a power play. Kozlov got the gas face from Esche with about 6:30 to go in the period. Sergei Gonchar was denied from the blueline on a power play with just under four minutes remaining. Alexander Frolov was also foiled on a backhand attempt later on the same power play.
But Russia would put the game away thanks to a goal that Esche would probably like a mulligan on; with just under two minutes to go, Kozlov shot a 49-footer from just beyond the faceoff circles that beat Esche (RUS 3-1). Kozlov's shot was the 45th of the game for the Russians.
Some skirmishes erupted late in the game involving Bill Guerin, Tkachuk, and Kasparaitis.
After the game, Hrudey expressed some concern over the USA having been outplayed in both games so far, and having many small things in which they didn't seem to be improving from game to game (though only two games). Burke said the USA was outperformed and outworked in every aspect of the game, and that no one on the team was providing any spark. He also commended the Russians on playing a smart 3rd period.
Doug Weight said in a postgame interview that the team was turning over the puck way too many times.
What followed from the CBC crew of Ron McLean, Burke, and Hrudey was about 10 or 15 minutes of discussion about the labor talks. It was a pretty lively debate, and though I think they had Kirk Muller via satellite on for some other purpose, they did bring him in for his two cents' worth. Anyway, Brian Burke had an interesting take on all of it, no doubt aided by the fact that he's a lawyer.
CBC's three stars: Alexei Kovalev, Maxim Afinogenov, Robert Esche
It's Germany and the Czech Republic from Prague tomorrow morning, and Slovakia and the United States in the afternoon from Saint Paul.
Yup, I think I'd call that one a must-win for the United States. Slovakia's no slouch either, they've got some talent on that team, though they'd be served a lot better with some NHL talent in goal.
Anyway, 'til tomorrow...