-- Russia had been waiting for fireworks from captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov. When he finally delivered, the display didn't disappoint.
After failing to get on the scoresheet in his club's first two games, Kuznetsov exploded for nine points as Russia routed Latvia 14-0 at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday night.
Kuznetsov, Russia's only returning player from last year's gold medal winning squad, finished with three goals and six assists. He ended up one shy of tying Peter Forsberg
's record for points in a World Junior Championship game when he put up 10 against Japan in 1992.
"I was kidding with the coach saying ‘Can I go for another shift and get another point'," Kuznetsov said through a translator. "I wasn't expecting to be one point shy. Someone told me I was one score away from Forsberg's record. I thought it was a joke. Forsberg, you don't take those people out of first place that easy."
Russian coach Valeri Bragin said he saw what he wanted from his captain.
"I was very pleased with how he played," Bragin said through a translator. "It's exactly what we're expecting. The whole game just worked out great."
The Russians, who had scored just six goals in their first two games, improved to 3-0-0 in Group A preliminary-round play. They will face Sweden on Saturday, with the winner likely to finish first and earn the bye into the semifinals. Russia has allowed just one goal in its three games.
"It will be an interesting game," Kuznetsov said. "They're a very strong team. Destiny will see how it works out for us."
The Russians led 2-0 after Artyom Sergeyev scored just 52 second into the middle period before Kuznetsov went to work. He scored goals – both on the power play – three minutes apart to quickly push the lead to 4-0 near the midway mark of the period.
Kuznetsov didn't stop there, assisting on Grigori Zheldakov's goal at 15:41 and both of Nikita Gusev
's goals to close out the period.
Gusev hammered a one-timer past Elvis Merzlikins with 4:53 remaining before breaking in 2-on-1 with Nikita Kucherov
. Gusev took the pass and quickly deked Merzlikins, going forehand-to-backhand before lifting the puck over the sprawled Latvian netminder at 18:34 to make it 8-0.
He wasn't done. Kuznetsov added his sixth consecutive point on the night on Pavel Kulikov
's goal 40 seconds into the third period.
Latvia got temporary relief from Kuznetsov after Alexander Khokhlachev
was able to walk in from the blue line untouched to beat Merzlikins. But Kuznetsov added his third of the night at 2:34 to extend the lead to 10-0.
, Yaroslav Kosov
and Khokhlachev added his second of the night, before Kuznetsov rounded out his night with an assist on Nikita Kucherov
's goal with 5:36 remaining in the game.
"Great game for him," Khokhlachev said. "The first two games he didn't have points. He played really good the first two games too, but he had, I don't know, 10, nine points? He was great today."
Despite putting up 14 goals on Latvia, Russia had problems getting on the board in the first period thanks in large part to Merzlikins, who faced 50 shots.
Though Mikhail Grigorenko opened the scoring on the Latvian goaltender, depositing a Nikita Kucherov
rebound at 10:29, Merzlikins was brilliant. Down a goal with Kucherov bearing down on a partial breakaway, Merzlikins flashed the glove, denying the Russian sniper with just over six minutes remaining in the period.
Merzlikins also left 2012 draft eligible Nail Yakupov scratching his head after denying him with the blocker on a 2-on-1 with Ivan Telegin
at 16:16. Merzlikins finished the period by making a sprawling right pad save off Khocklachev after a cross-crease feed from the doorstep with 35 seconds remaining.
In the end, the win might have proven costly for Russia, who lost Grigorenko after colliding with Latvian defender Artus Salija early in the second period.
"There was an injury around the ankle," Bragin said. "We don't know about it right now. We'll see tomorrow morning."