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World Cup Game Preview

Team Russia has big test against Team North America

In need of more offense, Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Ovechkin could skate on same line Monday

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer


Air Canada Centre, Toronto 

Monday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2, Sportsnet, TVA Sports) 


What's at Stake:

It's a back-to-back for both teams, but different mentalities just one game into the tournament. Team Russia is on the ropes right away, having lost its first game, a 2-1 defeat on Sunday against Team Sweden. Two losses are a near-certain elimination scenario, so the heat is certainly on for a more energetic effort and more consistent offensive creation. 

Team Russia needs to win the game, as well as its game on Thursday against Team Finland. Team North America is on the other side of that situational coin, having imposed its will on Team Finland in a 4-1 win on Sunday that was at least that dominant in terms of the actual possession and the opportunities. It has this game and one against Team Sweden on Wednesday. 


Team Russia:

Despite an impressive collection of skilled forwards such as Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov and Pavel Datsyuk, Team Russia continued to struggle producing quality scoring chances in its opening preliminary-round game. That was also a problem in pretournament play. Team Russia managed 27 shots on Team Sweden goaltender Jacob Markstrom on Sunday, but many of them were from the outside and it had few second or third chances. 

"We think there is chemistry in the team," coach Oleg Znarok said. "We believe in that, and we see that there is chemistry. We just didn't have enough chances to score." 

Znarok shuffled his line combinations in the third period on Sunday, moving Tarasenko up to play with Ovechkin and Datsyuk and dropping Kucherov to the second line with Artemi Panarin and Malkin. Whether Znarok will stick with those combinations on Monday is unknown. 

Znarok said after the game on Sunday that he has yet to decide if he'll start Sergei Bobrovsky in net on consecutive days, or if Semyon Varlamov will play against Team North America.


Team North America:

Growing expectations proved founded on Sunday when Team North America used an impressive second period to put away Team Finland. The opening-game victory featured speed and quickness galore and a greater consistency than Team North America showed in pretournament play, when it went 2-1. 

Monday will present a new challenge for Team North America. After facing a team on Sunday that doesn't have a lot of offensive prowess, its opponent Monday has the ability to score in bunches. 

"I mean, they're both different teams," center Auston Matthews said. "I think Finland is a little more structured defensively. Obviously, Russia has got a lot of firepower up front. They're both going to be difficult games tonight. It wasn't an easy game for us, but we definitely stuck to our game plan and were able to work it out. 
"[Monday] should be just as tough. We're going to have to come prepared."   


Keep your eye on:

Ovechkin's ice time. He played 16:25 on Sunday, the fourth-highest total among Team Russia forwards. Ovechkin did serve two penalties in the game but only came to life as a dangerous force in the third period when Znarok started to double-shift him. A key to watch for Team North America on Monday will be skating legs - will they be as swift as they were on Sunday in the back-to-back situation? It's imperative, given the team's identity of speed. 


They said it:

"The tournament is short and every game is a big game, especially after we lost [on Sunday]. But it's not the end of the world. [Monday] is a big game too." - Team Russia center Pavel Datsyuk 

"They're getting it. They understand and I'm sure they told you they have work to do yet. We know the games are going to get tougher as they go on and we have to clean up some areas in our game. But in the meantime, we're trying to grow what we're doing and fix some of the things that maybe aren't going so good and trying to get better every day. That was our goal, to maximize the time we have together every day. Today was a step in the right direction. [Monday], we'll have a tough day." - Team North America coach Todd McLellan 

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