Nathan MacKinnon will try to outshine Nail Yakupov when Team QMJHL faces Team Russia in Game 2 of the Subway Super Series on Wednesday.
Yakupov got the best of MacKinnon in the Subway Super Series opener on Monday, a 6-2 win for the Russians and their fifth-straight over QMJHL competition. The Edmonton Oilers’ prized pick in last summer’s draft scored once and set up another while MacKinnon, who will vie for the top draft position this June, was held without a point and finished a minus-4 in Game 1.
Watch Game 2 between Team QMJHL and Russia on Sportsnet at 7 p.m. ET.
Those stats may be deceiving if you ask Team QMJHL head coach Andre Tourigny.
“Nail was opportunistic,” Tourigny noted. “We were impatient. We turned the puck over, they capitalized on their first few chances. That was it. If we take away (two early) turnovers, I think we were right there.”
Yakupov scored the game’s second goal as a direct result of a Team QMJHL turnover in the offensive zone. This coming barely a minute after a MacKinnon cough up led to Mikhail Grigorenko’s opening goal midway through the opening frame.
Team QMJHL outshot the Russians 33-27 but failed to make the Russians pay for their mistakes the same way the Russians took advantage of theirs.
“We’ll see (Wednesday) how much we learned,” Tourigny said. “That will be the main message (Tuesday night).”
Jonathan Huberdeau got his wish to play alongside MacKinnon, but the two weren’t able to connect as quickly as they would have hoped. Hard as it may be to develop chemistry so quickly, Huberdeau and MacKinnon may have put too much emphasis on the other.
“I felt they were looking for each other instead of just playing their game and just taking the best option,” said Tourigny. “That’s human (nature) and it’s OK, but at the same time, I think at some point they have to play the same game they usually play and take the best option and look to exploit their strength.”
Yakupov showed why the Oilers thought highly enough of him to use the first-overall pick in drafting the shifty Russian. He scored from a well-placed slapshot in the high slot moments after springing Alexander Khokhlachev on a breakaway from inside his own zone.
“He’s a really good player,” Tourigny said. “He’s a player we cannot give any inches on the ice.”
If MacKinnon is to make the Canadian world junior team, it may be out of position on the wing. The star center was shifted to right wing in Game 1 and got a nice review from Tourigny in spite of not finding the score sheet.
“I think he did great, honestly,” his head coach said. “I didn’t see a big difference between wing and center. He was really intense, finished his hits and backchecked really hard so I’m happy with what he did as a winger.”
Valeri Nichushkin was a surprise scratch for the opening game on Monday, something scouts and hockey fans will hope doesn’t happen again on Wednesday. The skilled forward is considered a top 10 pick for this summer’s draft.
Andrei Vasilevski stole the show for Russians. He made some key saves at crucial times for the Russians, including a show-stopper on Jean-Sebastien Dea in the dying moments of the first period.
If there is a positive for Team QMJHL based on his performance, it’s that rebounds were there for the taking in Game 1.
“I think we put enough pucks to the net, it’s more about putting bodies to the net and be able to get those rebounds,” Tourigny said. “I’m pretty happy with the way we played down low in the offensive zone, but I think our traffic to the net was not (good) enough.”
Team QMJHL will go with the platoon of Francois Brassard and Zachary Fucale on Wednesday. Tourigny wouldn’t confirm which goalie would start the game late on Tuesday night, but did say they would split the crease.
“It’s a good challenge for them,” he said. “The door is wide open.”
The most impressive player wearing a Team QMJHL uniform on Monday was local defenceman Xavier Ouellet. Although not known to the masses just yet, he may be switching his QMJHL jersey for one with a maple leaf on its crest come Christmas time.
“He’s a really good defenceman and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” said Tourigny of Team QMJHL’s player of the game. “He showed (on Monday) he’s by far the best defenceman in the Q and he was dominant.”
Khokhlachev was never better than in last year’s world junior tournament. The former Windsor Spitfire iced the game in the third period with Russia’s fifth goal, the result of a rebound he pounced on in the QMJHL crease. The bigger the game, the bigger Khokhlachev seems to play.
The QMJHL leg of the series concludes on Wednesday and provides both teams an opportunity to send a message. A Russian win would put them in the driver’s seat to capture the series, while a QMJHL win would even it and stop the league’s slide at five.
The QMJHL hasn’t won a game in this series since winning both games in 2009. Tourigny doesn’t believe his team is out of their element and that Monday’s final flatters the visiting Russian squad.
“We know we can compete against them,” he said. “Our intensity was good, our back check was good, the way we played in our own end was good. It’s just a matter of making a better decision with the puck and details like that. I think the main part of the game was pretty good.”