As Denmark and Russia get set for their World Junior Hockey Championship Quarterfinal, I can’t help but feel bad for the Danes at having drawn the Russians over any other team.
While Russia has struggled in their own end when pressed, overall they’ve shown a lot of fight to the last whistle. Denmark has been able to capitalize on teams who remain shell shocked by their efforts for a full 60 minutes. Russia has been shell shocked for almost the entire tournament and hasn’t been phased. They’ve lost, but they’ve played the same way from opening faceoff to final whistle in every game.
Also, no one has impressed me overall individually quite Iike Russia’s Alexander Polunin.
He’s a constant ball of energy and he’s so smart positionally that his energy is used very efficiently. Because he’s almost always where he’s supposed to be, he can take his time and explode into the spaces at key times causing havoc for anyone trying to defend him.
He’s very smart with timing line changes, and usually comes off well before his linemates, especially on a power play. Two times against the Americans, the number 1 power play unit for Russia (including Polunin) had just had a long shift in the US end prior to the penalty so they were tired. Polunin started the first one with his regular unit and it was still pretty effective. On the second one minutes later, he didn’t start even though his linemates did. For first minute, it looked awful and disorganized. Polunin came on halfway through and it almost immediately settled down. Highly touted skill forward Kirill Kaprizov ended up scoring and got all the attention from the commentstors. But the goal was created by Polunin. He skated all the way back down low in his own zone for a breakout. After helping his team gain easy zone entry, he then passed down to Sergeev for his first shot which rang off the post. He then battled to the net and cleared the way for the ensuing deflected shot goal.
There’s never a shift where he doesn’t make things happen, either by excellent positioning to keep the puck in the offensive zone, a great backcheck to negate a passing option, or a simple smart line change.
If this game stays close, I think the Russians will continue to display the reliancy that got them into this game. In the key moments, individuals such as Polunin will make the difference.