Having watched Game Four of the Super Series today, I have come to realize that the Russians are either poorly coached, poorly prepared, or a combination of both. I suspect the latter mainly because it appears that the Russians are more concerned with showing off their individual talents rather than playing as a team. The Canadians, meanwhile, have dominated the series in terms of offence, puck control, and physicality. While I'm not suggesting that the series hasn't been entertaining, I don't think this is what Vladislav Tretiak had in mind when he proposed this idea. For all that has been said or done, the Canadians have dominated the Russians at every turn in the four games in Russia. Does anyone suspect that the Canadians will play less aggressively at home?
First, is there any doubt that Sergei Nemchinov was the wrong choice as head coach of the young Russian team? I'm not saying Mr. Nemchinov doesn't know the game. Heck, he played in the NHL for 12 years and won two Stanley Cups. What I am suggesting is that he isn't the motivator that a guy like Brent Sutter is.
The Russians played better today in shutting down the cycle game of the Canadians in the corners. They were more aggressive coming into the offensive zone, and worked the puck well down low. The Russians, however, are still extremely soft in front of their own net, and generally refuse to play physically against the Canadians. If you haven't seen it, here's David Perron's goal from Game Two.
Can someone explain to me how David Perron walked around the defender and scored from inside the crease without getting laid out? I think Mr. Nemchinov was a poor choice as a coach for this series, especially going up against a coach like Mr. Sutter who is relentless in his team's preparation for this kind of action.
As for the players, there is a distinct lack of teamwork on the Russian side. I'm not sure if it's frustration or whatever, but it seems that all the Russians want to do is go one-on-two with the Canadian defenders. The Canadian defenders are big, mobile, and physical. The Russians would be wise to use their speed along the wings and work the puck to the front of the net with some passing. It happened a few times in today's game, and the Russians had some solid scoring chances. Mr. Nemchinov needs to have his team play to their strengths more because the Canadians are exposing their weaknesses as it stands right now.
The Russian goaltending has kept the games respectable in terms of scores, and this is a nod towards the three Russian goalies. Semen Varlamov, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Vadim Zhelobnyuk have withstood the waves of Canadian attacks and kept their team in all of the games except Game Three. Kudos to the Russian goalies for doing all they can.
The Russians have been granted permission to add three players in the wake of the injuries they've had. The replacements are Victor Tikhonov, who is the grandson of the former Soviet hockey team head coach, Viktor Vasilevich Tikhonov, and two players who were in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season: Kirill Tupulov of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Ruslan Bashkirov of the Quebec Remparts. Bashkirov is a draft pick of the Ottawa Senators. Perhaps these three players will inject a little life into the Russian team.
The series shifts to Winnipeg for Game Five where a win or tie would clinch the series for the Canadians. Canada will wear the red 1972-style jerseys in Winnipeg on Tuesday. If anyone thinks the Canadians will let up, think again. Pride is on the line now that the Canadians are at home.
For instance, Brent Sutter is looking to extend his International Junior Team coaching record beyond his current mark of 16-0. He's coached two World Junior Championship winning teams, and is making his mark on this series. The Canadians are looking to leave their mark on the Russians as well as some of these players will be seeing each other again at this year's World Junior Championship. There will be no let up from the Canadians to be sure.
Game Five goes Tuesday night from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg at 8pm ET on TSN and broadband.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!