STOCKHOLM – Another day and another tournament saving effort by a Czech player named Zbynek. Zbynek Michalek’s third period goal helped the Czech Republic defeat Slovenia 4-2 in the early game at the Globe Arena in Stockholm.
Yesterday, the Czechs defeated Denmark thanks to Zbynek Irgl’s two goals in the shootout. Today it was Michalek whose power-play goal prevented the Czechs from facing a potentially tough loss to Slovenia.
Going back to 2003, the Czechs have not lost to Slovenia in three World Championship games including this one.
"We didn't play very well," said Michalek. "The only positive we can take is we got the three points - or maybe the three power-play goals we scored. Our game is not good right now. It needs to be better."
Even with the loss, Slovenia turned in a very strong performance. A 2-2 first period saw Slovenia bring their “A” game to this Preliminary Round contest here at the 2013 World Championship.
Slovenia’s forward unit of Ziga Jeglic, Robert Sabolic and Rok Ticar once again displayed their potential as a unit. The trio combined for four points and six of Slovenia’s 11 shots on goal in the period.
When Jiri Novotny was called for a penalty at 4:41, Slovenia featured an effective power play but the Czechs would use it to get the first goal of the game.
Petr Koukal forced a turnover at the point when Ales Kranjc tried to control the puck. Koukal stole the puck and gained a step ahead of Kranjc, went in on a break and deposited the puck past Robert Kristan.
Koukal faked a forehand shot and scored backhand. The goal came at 5:39 and with 1:01 left on the Novotny penalty.
Koukal, who plays for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in Russia, was added to the Czech roster on Thursday along with Ondrej Pavelec.
Rather than get dispirited, Slovenia bounced back quickly on the same power play. Forty-two seconds later Sabolic scored off a rebound in front after Ticar’s slapshot from the point was saved. The puck landed on Sabolic’s stick and he cashed in.
Slovenia took the lead when poor coverage by the Czechs in their own end led to Ticar scoring his third of the tournament. Sabolic beat Zbynek Michalek to the puck behind the Czech goal and sent a pass in front to Ticar for the score.
Head coach Matjaz Kopitar has not had very many enjoyable moments during this World Championship. With his team still winless and facing the specter of relegation, he cannot be a very happy coach but there were encouraging signs in the first period.
With 43.1 remaining in the first Jiri Hudler tied it up. Hudler’s fourth goal of the tournament and third on the power play brought the Czechs right back.
A precision pass by Jakub Voracek to Hudler led to the scoring chance.
Things were even until the third period when at 14:02 the Czechs took advantage of a power play.
Voracek directed a pass to Michalek at the point who sent a shot on goal that found its way around though several players and in. For Michalek it was in second goal in as many games.
"It was a tight game and we talked in the intermission about just shooting the puck and going to the net," said Michalek. "Jakub Voracek made a great play to get the puck to me at the blue line. I saw an opening and just threw a little wrister on goal and it went in. It was a huge goal for us."
The Czechs added an insurance goal on the power play at 15:55 when Novotny followed his own rebound from a wrap around shot.
Michalek acknowledged his team needs to improve their effort.
"It's been a struggle for us so far. Hopefully this game puts us over the top, and we start playing better. We need to improve everywhere."