Russia retained first place in Group A with its third consecutive shutout win on Monday, blanking Belarus 6-0. The Russians, who won gold at the PyeongChang Olympics in February, have not conceded a goal so far at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Copenhagen.
It was a convincing win by the biggest former Soviet republic over its neighbouring cousin. This was the eighth all-time Russian victory over Belarus at the Worlds. The two countries tied 2-2 in the inaugural 1999 encounter in Norway, and Belarus shocked host Russia 1-0 at the 2000 Worlds in St. Petersburg on Vladimir Tsyplakov’s goal. Ever since, the Sbornaya have ruled.
Coach Ilya Vorobyov's men won both their first two games 7-0, over France and Austria, and now own a 20-0 goal difference. Finland set the modern-day team shutout record with four straight at the 2015 Worlds in the Czech Republic.
"We're not disappointed that we couldn't get a seventh goal," said Russia's Maxim Shalunov. "We were up against a good team and 6-0 isn't a bad result."
In this battle of backup netminders, Igor Shestyorkin got the goose egg in his first World Championship start after playing the final 20 minutes in the 7-0 win over Austria. It was also the first Worlds game ever for Belarus’s Vitali Trus, as Russia outshot Belarus 27-18.
Captain Pavel Datsyuk set the pace with two goals and an assist. Ilya Kablukov had a goal and an assist. Shalunov, Maxim Mamin, and Kirill Kaprizov also scored for Russia. Yevgeni Dadonov and Alexander Barabanov added a pair of assists apiece.
"Datsyuk is just a hockey phenomenon," said Shalunov. "I think he's still taking it easy here. He's a great guy. It's pretty special to be on a team with someone like that."
Belarus, now winless through three games, stayed within a goal through 20 minutes, but the tidal wave of Russian offence was too strong to withstand indefinitely. The result was never truly in doubt.
"From game to game we've been trying to cut out the silly mistakes and we need to keep on with that," said Datsyuk. "I thought we had fewer errors today but the main thing was getting the result."
Datsyuk kicked off the onslaught with his first goal of these Worlds at 5:27, collecting Yevgeni Dadonov’s feed by the Belarusian netminder’s left post and then heading around the net to execute a backhanded wraparound at the other post.
The Russian captain nearly had his second goal when he rang one off the post during his team’s opening power play midway through the first period. With about three minutes left in the first, he set up Kaprizov, who put the puck off the cross bar. The play was video-reviewed, but the puck hadn’t crossed the goal line.
Belarus came within a hair’s-breadth of equalizing in the final minute of the first when Yegor Sharangovich hit the iron and Shestyorkin got across to stop Pavel Vorobei’s blast on the rebound. But that’s as good as it would get for coach Dave Lewis's team.
Russia went up 2-0 at 5:55 of the second period. Barabanov grabbed the puck behind the Belarusian goal line and pivoted to find Shalunov right in front, and he made no mistake.
"Barabanov did everything for my goal," said Shalunov. "He set me up with an empty net."
At 9:25, it was 3-0 Russia. Barabanov controlled the puck behind the net and cut out front with a short pass to Kablukov, who backhanded the puck past Trus’s glove.
With 34 seconds left in the middle frame, Datsyuk added his second goal on the power play. The Russians made the puck dance all over the offensive zone against a very passive Belarusian penalty kill before the newest IIHF Triple Gold Club member beat Trus high to the stick side.
"There were a few positives," said Belarus coach Dave Lewis. "I liked that the guys kept working. They were down. The Russians spent a lot of time in our zone, but our players kept giving their all. Sometimes you just can't ask for more than that. The Russians are incredibly skilled and quick. They know how to play with the puck. Every line can conjure a goal."
In the third period, Mamin added the fifth Russian goal on a sweet tip from the high slot at 5:16, as he caught a piece of Nikita Zaitsev's shot from the blue line. At 7:37, Kaprizov made it 6-0 on the rush with his team-leading fourth goal, coming down the left side and sniping home a high one.
"It's good that we got another shut-out and kept scoring goals," said Kaprizov.
Belarus got a chance to spoil Shestyorkin's shutout with a late third-period power play, but had no luck. The Belarusians face Switzerland on Wednesday as their fight to avoid relegation continues.
The Russians get a couple of days off before facing what will likely be a stiffer test against the Czech Republic on Thursday.
"Now we have a couple of days off, I'd like to see a bit of the city," said Datsyuk. "It's more than 20 years since I was last here."