CALGARY – Slovakia managed to hang tough with Russia through two periods, but a third-period goal by Mikhail Naumenkov proved decisive in a 3-1 win for the defending champions Wednesday at the Saddledome. Russia remains perfect atop Group A, while the Slovaks suffered their first loss.
Igor Ozhiganov and Nikita Kucherov also scored for Russia. Milos Bubela replied for Slovakia.
Despite posting its second straight win, Russia has only scored six goals, off the pace that most would have predicted for this traditional offensive powerhouse.
"We attacked better than we did against Switzerland, but we still need to capitalize on our chances," Ozhiganov said. "We need to score more."
Andrei Makarov got his first start in goal for Russia and got the win versus Slovakia's Juraj Simboch. Shots on goal favoured Russia 40-32.
"Our goalie was very good, but we just couldn't score when we had the chance," Bubela said.
The Russians could easily have drawn first blood in the first period. They often owned the puck, playing keepaway. Hard, tape-to-tape passes abounded, and they outshot Slovakia 18-8. Makarov was steady when he needed to be during the Slovaks’ first man advantage.
It was the Slovaks who opened the scoring, however, with 33 seconds left in the opening stanza. The Russians got too eager to break out of their own zone, and Bubela turned the puck over, firing a quick shot past Makarov’s left pad from the faceoff circle.
"The puck got tied up with a couple of players and ended up in my feet," Bubela explained. "I just shot it to the net and it went in."
Russia’s early frustration showed when Ivan Telegin broke his stick while slashing that of Slovak captain Tomas Matousek right at the buzzer. He took a minor and a misconduct for throwing down his shattered twig in disgust.
The Russian defence got involved in the middle frame. Ozhiganov tied it up on Russia’s first shot of the period at 4:11, powering a slapper set up by Nail Yakupov from the left point past Simboch.
The crowd oohed when Ildar Isangulov laid Vladimir Dolnik out with a huge, shoulder-on-shoulder hit deep in the Russian end.
With 5:19 left in the second, the officials video-reviewed a wild scramble around Makarov’s crease to see if the Slovaks had jammed the puck over the goal line. But it was ruled no goal to the disappointment of Slovak supporters among the 15.987 on hand.
Could Slovakia hang on and pull off an upset? The answer was no.
Just 1:15 into the third period, Naumenkov put Russia up 2-1 with another shot from just inside the left point, this time a high wrister off a faceoff win by Ignat Zemchenko.
Simboch had to be sharp on a Slovak giveaway that gave Telegin a spinaround shot on goal from the slot with about 13 minutes left.
Russia got some insurance with 5:29 left when Kucherov took a sneaky, beautiful Mikhail Grigorenko pass from behind the net and popped it past Simboch for a 3-1 lead.
"We've played together for a while, so it hasn't just been two weeks together," said Ozhiganov. "There are some mistakes we need to improve on, but overall it has been a good start."
Dating back to Slovakia’s entry into the top-level World Juniors in 1996, the Slovaks have never defeated Russia at the World Junior Championship. Russia vanquished Slovakia 8-1 the last time these nations met at the 2009 tournament in Ottawa.
Next up, Russia faces Latvia on Thursday, while the Slovaks take on Sweden on Friday.