MALMÖ – The United States-Russia quarter-finals is the most intriguing because it pits two teams of high quality playing each other for the first time this year.
There is the element of the known (respect, known skills) and the unknown (playing in different groups).
This is only the second meeting between the two teams in the last six years, and the Russians have won four of the last five since 2005. This year, the teams match up almost identically. The U.S. has a 21-7 goals for-against record and the Russians are 21-8.
More significantly, both teams boast balanced attacks. The top scorers for either team all have six points: Mikhail Grigorenko (RUS, 3+3), Matt Grzelcyk (USA, 2+4), Nic Kerdiles (USA, 1+5). Only two Americans have yet to register a point, and both are defencemen (Brady Skjei and Ian McCoshen). The Russians have four players without a point, but the details aren’t as important as the overall message – the teams have four lines that can score.
Andrei Vasilevki is likely to start in goal for Russia while Jon Gillies is sure to be the American between the pipes.
The Americans have been impressive on many fronts. Their team speed is formidable, and, of course, they can play a physical game if need be. Their power play is the best to date, scoring eleven times, but they showed a lack of street smarts last game when they lost to Canada largely because of penalty trouble of their own in the third period.
A young team, their inexperience might hurt them, but they did a lot of catching up against Canada and will be more prepared for the quarter-finals with that game under their belt.
The Russians are also fast and skilled, and they are second in the tournament with eight power-play goals. While the Americans lost their last game, the Russians have lost their last two. After starting with easy wins over Norway (11-0) and Switzerland (7-1), they lost to Finland (4-1) and Sweden (3-2) to close out the preliminary round.
Both teams have to play better, but the one that doesn’t will, shockingly, be flying home with, at best, a 5th-place finish, well below pre-tournament expectations. In the last ten years, Russia has earned a medal eight times (1-4-3 gold-silver-bronze) while the Americans have four (2-0-2).