Swedes stay perfect
by Andy POTTS|16 MAY 2024
Kazakhstan goalie Nikita Boyarkin after making one of many saves against Sweden at the 2024 IIHF World Championship.
Sweden stays flawless in Ostrava after dominating Thursday’s game against Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs kept the scoring tight but there was rarely any danger of an upset in a 3-1 win.

Swedish forward Jesper Froden felt that his team could have made life easier. “There were certain moments today where we could have stayed focused a little longer,” he said. “We want to be a tough team to play against so we need to tighten our defence, play smarter with the puck and make better decisions.

“But it was a lot of fun out there. We’re playing well and we have a lot of guys who can contribute.”

For Kazakhstan, Batyrlan Muratov relished the experience of playing against some of the best in the world, but wants to see more clinical finishing when chances come. "It was nice to play against Karlsson and Hedman, we enjoyed it," he said. "It's good for us, but we have to be ready for future games.

"We need to make the most of our power play, take our chances and keep moving forwards."

After two losses, Kazakhstan made changes. Boyarkin got the start in goal for the first time, while Maxim Musorov and Nikolay Shulga got their first appearances of the 2024 World Championship. Kirill Savitskiy and Arkadiy Shestakov made way.

It was no surprise that Sweden made the livelier start, but Kazakhstan managed to carve out a promising opening for Valeriy Orekhov in the first five minutes. That might have suggested that the outsider would pose some questions, but it turned out to be the only shot on goal the Kazakhs would find in the first period.

Instead, Sweden dominated and took a merited lead midway through the session. Marcus Johansson’s line has been one of the Tre Kronor’s most potent threats in this tournament and here it set up a mesmerising criss-cross play to bring the puck from one end to the other. Kazakhstan backed off, enabling Johansson to take charge at the top of the circle, find a shooting lane and pot his third goal of the championship.

Fluid Swedish skating kept Kazakhstan pegged back throughout and goaltender Nikita Boyarkin, making his first start of the tournament, was all that stood between his team and a greater deficit at the first intermission. He pulled off several big stops, notably on the only power play of the session.

And Boyarkin was busy again in the second period, working hard to keep his team in the game as Sweden produced wave after wave of attacking play. When the goalie was beaten, he had good insurance from his defence: witness how Mani Dikhanbek muscled Johannson away from the puck with the goalie prone after denying Pontus Holmberg.

However, while it was only a one-goal game, the Swedes had to stay alert. Kazakhstan posed only an intermittent threat, but almost grabbed a tying goal when Alikhan Omirbekov slung a pass off the boards for Roman Starchenko to get goalside of Joel Eriksson Ek. It was Kazakhstan’s clearest chance but Starchenko’s speed made it almost impossible for him to produce a move on Errson.

Then the Kazakhs threatened a short-handed goal with Errson was too casual behind the net and Mikhail Rakhmanov forced a turnover. A neat play invited Kirill Panyukov to tie the game, but the puck got caught between his skates and Errson survived his slip-up.

With five left in the middle frame, Sweden showed how to pot a shorty. Linus Johansson joined his namesake Marcus on the scoresheet when a great defensive press set up a two-on-one breakaway. Linus produced a perfect shot through the five-hole to claim the first short-handed goal of the tournament and give the Swedes some breathing space.

Any prospect of a dramatic turnaround evaporated at the start of the third when Fabian Zetterlund made it 3-0 on a broken play. It might have lacked the fluency of Sweden’s best play tonight, but it maintained an impressive record of scoring in all 12 periods so far in the tournament.

Although overmatched, Kazakhstan never gave up. And there was a reward when Adil Beketayev ripped a perfect shot into the roof of the net after Yeveniy Rymarev's feed dropped nicely for him off the wall. The puck was timed at 162 km/h, the hardest shot of the tournament to date.

That gave the Kazakhs a lift in the closing stages, but Sweden closed out the game with few alarms and remains out in front in Group B.

Thursday's game also had an unlikely sub-plot, Sweden’s Victor Hedman found himself lining up against a couple of former team-mates from his lock-out spell with Kazakhstan’s Barys Astana in 2012/13. More than a decade later, he is encouraged by the progress he can see in Kazakh hockey.

“There were two guys who I played with over those three months, Starchenko and Rakhmanov,” the two-time Stanley Cup winner said. “I think hockey is getting better worldwide and Kazakhstan is a good example of that. They’re getting better.

“I had a great time in my few months there. I learned a lot and I think Kazakh hockey is going in the right direction.”