There was a feeling to this game of the 2018 Winter Olympics at PyeongChang that harkened back to the days of the Cold War where the feelings of the fans of each country against the other were intense, and the animosity of the players was real. The crowds at Saturday’s preliminary round game between the Olympic Athlete of Russia (Team OAR) and Team USA were already deafening as soon as the puck dropped. As for the players, one has to wonder how they could hear whistles and shouts from their coaches.
From the first puck drop, both teams came out strong, and it was good to see the Americans outshooting Team OAR at the beginning, but they soon let up. Russia began to rule the ice, getting some quality zone time which ultimately worked in their favor, as Sergei Mozyakin from the right circle saw an unguarded Nikolai Prokhorkin in front of the American net with a wide open back door. Tape to tape and it was 1-0 Russians 7:21 into the opening period.
Just after the Russians scored, they found themselves in the penalty box, as Sergei Kalnin was called for a tripping. Unfortunately, the American’s power play was anything but. Russia was able to hem them in for a good deal of the first part, and then USA just never got their special team together.
With just 26 seconds remaining in the period, USA’s Noah Welch was whistled for a hooking. And by that point the Russians were already getting the longer zone time and most certainly had more quality shots on goal. Going into the first intermission the score was still 1-0 Russia, and the shots were 13-11, but many of the American’s shots were easily stopped by Vasili Koshechkin.
The second period began with the Americans still killing Welch’s penalty, which they managed to do. However, just 2:14 in and the Russians were up 2-0 as Prokhorkin got his second of the game. And then 14 seconds later Welch was back in the box, this time for high sticking. The Russians had some quality time in the offensive zone as it took the Americans 1:14 of that penalty kill to clear the puck from their end.
Not surprisingly the pushing and shoving–which had been going on much of the game–began to increase. With 5:49 gone in the milddle frame, Ryan Donato was whistled for a slashing penalty and Vladislav Gavrikov got a roughing, so the two teams played four on four. A delayed penalty was coming to the Russians and Ryan Zapolski had gone to the bench for the extra attacker. Brian Gionta had the puck on his stick and was on a breakaway, but he couldn’t get it in the net. This was a shot that the Americans needed.
There was a brief four-on-three for the Americans when play finally stopped and Nikita Nesterov was whistled for a holding penalty. Once again Team USA couldn’t make anything of the power play. And then while they were on a five-on-four finishing out Nesterov’s penalty, the Russians got an odd-man rush. Fortunately, Zapolski denied them.
The pushing and shoving continued after many of the whistles. With 1:31 remaining in the period, USA’s Chris Bourque was sent to the box for a slash, while Prokhorkin got a roughing. And roughing it was. Bourque’s helmet came off and the two were still yapping at each other as they headed to their respective penalty boxes.
Another bit of four-on-four, but for the Americans this one would not result in them getting a power play as the earlier one had. This time they would hear Russia’s goal song, “Those Were the Days,” played as the Russians scored their third goal, off the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk, a name all too familiar to NHL fans, with .2 seconds remaining on the clock. Certainly not the way the United States wanted to end the period.
One would have expected the Americans to come out breathing fire in the third, but instead, it was the Russians. It was once again Kovalchuk with the goal, this time 28 seconds into the third period. From that point it was all but done for the Americans, though to their credit they continued to play hard.
So, what went wrong for the Americans? Their inability to finish was a big part of the problem. The Russians were just too much team for them. The shots Team USA did land on Koshechkin were often well to the outside, and seldom was he screened.
America’s loss to Slovenia in that first round robin game was a game they couldn’t afford to lose, even in overtime. Things aren’t over yet for the United States. They will play in one of qualification games to see if they can make it to the quarterfinal round. Those games will take place on Tuesday.
There is work to do for Team USA.