If it's tough at the top, it's often worse at the bottom. Struggling Kazakhstan needs some urgent work on its power play and penalty kill.
Kazakhstan's 2-7 reverse against Russia illustrated its big problem: counting even strength goals it was just 2-3. Unfortunately the team has one of the worst penalty kills in the competition. Russia converted four of its five power plays to romp to a big win and push the Kazakh penalty kill down to 68.42%.
And it's not much better when the Kazakhs have the advantage. The special teams have achieved little outside of a 5-on-3 advantage against Latvia which generated two goals. After 17 power plays thus far, that's a disappointing conversion rate of 11.76%.
To make matters worse, Kazakhstan's players do seem keen to spend time in the penalty box. With 52 PIM from four games, only the Czechs have incurred greater wrath from the officials in this competition.
For experienced defenceman Kevin Dallman, penalties and focus are the key areas to work on.
"As usual we took too many penalties and our opponent took advantage," he said after the defeat against Russia. "We couldn't maintain our concentration, not even in the third period when we got a couple of quick goals. We couldn't hold on and keep Russia out at the end."
Some of Kazakhstan's problems might date back to life before this tournament. Head coach Ari-Pekka Selin and much of his roster worked at the KHL's Barys Astana this season, and those difficulties with uneven strength games were apparent there as well.
In the KHL play-offs Barys gave up 10 goals from 43 penalties, placing 13th with a success rate of 76.7%. And the power play slumped alarmingly: after topping the league in the regular season the goals dried up. 35 passages with a man advantage yielded a miserly four goals, a success rate of 11.4%.
Goalie Alexei Ivanov, a former Barys man now with Spartak Moscow, faced the Russian onslaught in his first game of the competition and observed: "We were fairly assured when it was five-on-five, but whenever there was a penalty for either team we looked much less effective," he said. "But I think this problem might have come to us from Barys. I had a look at the stats before the World Championship, and it looks like the problems at Barys might have followed us into the national team. That's making it hard for us."
Meanwhile Kazakhstan is still waiting for its first top level World Championship victory since a relegation round win over Slovenia back in 2006 and coach Selin is concerned about a lack of belief among some of his players.
"On Thursday we have a rest day and we need to remember why we came to this championship," he said. "Against Russia our first task was to shut them out in the first period, but the problem was that one or two of our players didn't believe we could do it. That really surprised me, because we played 56 times against the Russian players in the KHL."
Dallman, who spent the KHL season at SKA St. Petersburg playing alongside Russia's top player on the night, Viktor Tikhonov, isn't giving up just yet. "We need to work on our mistakes and analyse the key moments in the game," he said. "Hopefully we can get as many points as possible from the next three games."
And even though the team looks likely to drop back down to the second tier unless it can take points against the USA, Finland and Switzerland, Andrei Spiridonov echoed those sentiments. "This is the World Championship. Nobody is giving up," he said. "We have three games to come and we'll keep playing to the end."