The World Juniors officially kicked off yesterday. Two Flames prospects were in action in the nightcap between USA and Russia.
In a game billed as a battle between two of the top goalies in the tournament, both started off shaky. The Russians got on the board first, with Vasili Ponomaryov, a Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect, tipping an Artemi Knyazev shot from the boards past USA’s Spencer Knight. The Americans did not get a shot on net in the first 12 minutes of the first, but Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect Cam York was able to tie the game on a shot from the point. The first period ended tied at 1-1.
The second period started out quickly for the Americans when Flyers prospect Bobby Brink missed an open net chance. But the Russians picked it up quickly. Maxim Groshev found Zakhar Bardakov, who fought his way past York and put the puck in the back of the net.
From there it was all Russia. Knight made a bad pass to Jake Sanderson who got double teamed. Sanderson made a bad pass to the front of his net which was picked up by Ponomaryov who put it past Knight.
Just a minute later, Knight tried to pass it to a teammate but instead sent it right to Ilya Safonov who put it into the empty American net. That was the end of Knight’s night, and Flames prospect Dustin Wolf took over in net for the Americans. The second period ended 4-1 Russia.
In the third, the Americans came out flying, trying to make a game of it. While Russia did have some impressive chances, the Americans pulled one back. Drew Hellison’s point shot was stopped by Askarov but John Farinacci of the Arizona Coyotes scored to bring the Americans one goal closer.
With just three minutes left in the third, Safonov took a bad tripping penalty, and the Americans went to the powerplay. With the Wolf pulled, Trevor Zegras, the Anaheim Ducks’ prospect, put a perfect shot off the bar and in to make it 4-3.
While the Americans kept pushing with the empty net, they could not get sustained zone time to generate chances. As the Americans tried to establish a zone presence, Columbus Blue Jackets first round pick, Yegor Chinakhov put the puck in the empty net to seal a 5-3 win for Team Russia.
Flames prospect rundown
A Christmas gift for Flames fans as both Yan Kuznetsov and Wolf got playing time in this one. Kuznetsov played a decent game for the Russians. As a defensive defenceman, his style of play does not make highlight reels or stand out in meaningful ways. That said, his small, smart plays made an impact all game long. He was reliable in helping Russia make smart outlet passes.
One thing that the Russians have done a lot this tournament is make long breakout passes from inside their own zone to the far side of the neutral zone. Kuznetsov’s passes were typically quite good, and he was able to find his man more often than not.
The one standout bad play by Kuznetsov was on the second American goal when he was caught going the wrong way after a point shot by the Americans. As a result, he lost his man, Faranacci, who was able to beat a sprawling Askarov. In a game as fast as hockey, it is hard to fault him on that one. He expected the puck to go one way, and instead it went another. A tough break for Kuznetsov, who probably wants that one back.
Although he did miss that one chance, he was incredibly effective in front of his own net. A big body presence, he was not afraid to throw his weight around and made sure that Askarov had a clear line of sight most of the time he was on the ice.
Interestingly, Kuznetsov played the least among all Russian defenceman, ending the night at just under 17 minutes of ice time. That being said, Russia played all their defenceman almost the same amount, with Shakir Mukhamadullin leading the way with 21 minutes. Kuznetsov has had some opportunities on the penalty kill, but has not been featured on Russia’s powerplay. Keep an eye on his ice time in their next game. All in all, a good showing for the Flames’ second round pick.
Nobody was expecting Wolf to feature in this game. In the pre-tournament game against Finland, he was good but did not face any real quality chances against. In this one, the Russians were not nearly as kind. He stopped a couple of Russian breakaways, including one right after he took the ice midway through the second, which went off the top of his stick and just wide of the top corner.
Wolf stopped all 11 shots he faced in this game, a number of which were clear scoring chances. But more than that, he gave up few rebounds, made sharp plays to his skaters, and was able to help move the puck up ice. Having a reliable netminder definitely helped build the American’s confidence, and gave them a chance to win this one. While he only played about 26 minutes, he was a difference-maker for the Americans and stood out positively.
The American’s next game is tomorrow, where they will face Austria. This one was likely slated to be Wolf’s game to start, but with how this game went, it could go either way. The USA’s head coach Nate Leaman indicated that they would be “sticking to the plan” in net, but it’s not clear whether that means Wolf will start on the second half of the back-to-back or if Knight was planned to start in both games.
The Americans could want to build off Wolf’s strong game, and opt to give him a second chance to earn his spot in net. Alternatively, they may see Knight as their guy for the tournament, and want to give him a chance to get his mojo back. If Wolf starts tomorrow and has a good game against a weaker Austrian side, he may end up stealing the starter’s crease from Knight. It’s definitely something to watch for going into tomorrow’s match.
Flames up next
Team USA is right back at it tomorrow night at 7:30 PM MST when they face Austria. Expect the Americans to rebound quite strongly in this one. This will be Austria’s first game.
Russia, meanwhile, has the day off in the bubble, but will face the Czech Republic on Sunday evening at 7:3 0PM MST. This will be the second game for the Czech Republic after they face off against Sweden tomorrow.
As for the other two Flames prospects, Canadians Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier will matchup against Germany tomorrow at 4:00 PM MST. A depleted side due to COVID-19 concerns, Germany lost their first game against Finland. Canada will be without captain Kirby Dach.