During Sunday’s marquee matchup in Bratislava, Switzerland’s fans may have made the most noise, but Russia’s players scored the most goals in a 3-0 win at Ondrej Nepela Arena. While the compete level was high on both sides, superior Russian speed and skill made the difference. It's now six straight victories for coach Ilya Vorobyov's troops.
Nikita Kucherov led the way with two goals for Russia, while Artyom Anisimov had a goal and an assist, and Nikita Gusev chipped in two assists. Kucherov, the 2019 NHL scoring champion with 128 points for the Tampa Bay Lightning, leads these Worlds with 14 points.
With four shutouts, the Russians, not always recognized for their defensive acumen, have conceded a tournament-low three goals.
Switzerland, which won its first four games, has stumbled against stiffer competition. The 2018 silver medalists have lost two straight, including a 4-3 defeat against defending champion Sweden on Saturday.
“Russia hasn’t lost a game. They’re definitely a highly skilled team. They work hard, they play really fast. It’s not easy to play against them,” Swiss forward Sven Andrighetto said. “They came out strong especially in the beginning and then we had to play catch-up hockey. It’s never the place we want to be in. When you score no goal you’re not going to win a game. We had the chances on the power plays. At the end of the day we have to find a way to bury one.”
Russia has one round-robin game left against Sweden on Tuesday. If Tre Kronor defeats Latvia in regulation on Monday, the Sweden-Russia game will determine first place in Group B. And if Russia beats Sweden in regulation, it's an auspicious omen for Sbornaya fans. Under the current 64-game format, the Russians have marched to gold each time they've posted seven straight group wins (2012, 2014).
Kirill Kaprizov, restored to his role alongside Alexander Ovechkin and Yevgeni Kuznetsov in Sunday night's game, believes the real action is just starting. “We’re moving into the play-offs and suddenly every game turns into a battle to progress further,” he said. “We have to prepare for this as hard as possible.”
As for his partnership with the Capitals’ stars, he added: “It’s not the first time we played together. It’s going well. We created plenty of chances tonight but couldn't put them away. God willing, that will come in future games.”
Russia outshot Switzerland 34-31. Goalie Alexander Georgiev recorded his second win and shutout of the tournament as Andrei Vasilevski chilled on the bench. Leonardo Genoni got his third start for Switzerland, while Reto Berra sat with Swiss coaches amid the TV commentators in his team blazer and grey wool hat.
Georgiev was selected as Russia’s player of the game and afterwards he told reporters: “The guys in front of me did a fantastic job. The defence really supported me, stood up under pressure and worked brilliantly on the penalty kill.
“It also helped that we went in front early in the game.”
Meanwhile, Nikita Zadorov laid out Simon Moser with a thunderous open-ice hit. Kevin Fiala irked Kucherov by knocking him down. And a peevish Alexander Ovechkin, who has been limited to a goal and an assist so far after leading the NHL with 51 goals for Washington, sent Roman Loeffel toppling over Genoni after the Swiss goalie denied him from close range.
Animosity built up as Zadorov was sent off with under two minutes left in the opening frame when he tried to hit Nico Hischier, the 2017 #1 overall pick of the New Jersey Devils, and instead tripped him. Swiss assistant captain Roman Josi and Russian captain Ilya Kovalchuk exchanged heated words between the benches. The Swiss squandered the ensuing power play.
Near the three-minute mark of the second period, Georgiev came up big to stop Tristan Scherwey busting in off right wing alone. Hischier was sent off for delaying the game two minutes later, as he dislodged the net while striving to stop Gusev from poking in a Kucherov rebound.
That Russian man advantage initially saw Genoni stoning Yevgeni Dadonov, who leads Russia with six goals, from the slot. However, Kucherov’s uncanny chemistry with Gusev delivered the 2-0 gap at 6:40.
With a sweet cross-ice pass, Gusev set up his childhood pal from Moscow’s Belye Medvedi (Polar Bears) sports school for a one-timer goal. For Tampa Bay fans, it must seem a great pity that Gusev, who was originally drafted by their club in 2012, is now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Gusev was understated about his partnership with Kucherov, which has produced 25 (9+16) points in the tournament so far. “I guess so far it’s all going pretty well,” he said. “We’re creating some chances for each other. I missed a good chance off a feed from [Kucherov] today but he’s missed chances off me in the past. I don’t think anybody is pointing fingers at each other.”
Approaching the five-minute mark of the third, Genoni kept his team in it with a great glove save off Yevgeni Malkin. He remained poised with the Russians circling during Yannick Weber’s mid-period tripping minor.
With 4:40 left, Kucherov put the game out of reach at 3-0, taking a pass from Anisimov on a 2-on-1 and golfing the puck past Genoni’s left shoulder. The free-scoring forward had been singled out by the Swiss defence but his head coach, Ilya Vorobyov, took that as a compliment.
“If teams are playing hard against [Kucherov], that’s because he’s a star player,” he said. “He’s a great player and opponents will try to knock him off his game. We were talking about this on the bench, helping him stay on it.”
The Swiss refused to wave the white flag, pulling their goalie for an extra attacker as the Russians took back-to-back delay of game penalties. However, there would be no miraculous comeback for the underdogs.
The good penalty kill and goalie performance was also a result of Switzerland’s inability to score.
“The weak power play was an issue but we played against an incredibly strong opponent. I’ve never seen them that strong, they steamrolled us in the beginning,” said Swiss head coach Patrick Fischer. “The puck doesn’t go into the net on the power play. We have to work on that. Nino Niederreiter will be a helpful addition for that.”
Carolina Hurricanes star Niederreiter will land tomorrow morning and become the last player to join the Swiss roster.
This was Russia's ninth consecutive win over Switzerland at the Worlds. The Swiss haven't secured a point against the biggest former Soviet republic since a 3-3 tie on 6 May 2005 in Vienna.