Six things to keep an eye on as we head into Monday night's Subway Super Series match between Russia and the Ontario Hockey League (7 p.m. EST, NHL Network in the U.S.; Sportsnet in Canada). Game stats and recaps are below.
The return of the prodigal son. It could be an interesting homecoming for Nail Yakupov.
This time last year, the flashy right winger was the face of the franchise in Sarnia, a thrill-a-minute player as beloved in his adopted hometown as anyone since Steven Stamkos.
Of course, that was before he decided to skip out on the Sting.
No one really expected Yakupov to go back to the OHL after he was taken first overall by Edmonton in last summer's NHL Draft, but the lockout changed everything. Yakupov was eligible to return to Sarnia, where his presence would put the Sting in position to challenge for the Western Conference title and maybe a shot at the Memorial Cup. Instead, he chose to chase the bigger payday available to him in the KHL. The decision wasn't well received in Sarnia, especially since Yakupov started skating in Russia without first securing the release of his rights from the OHL.
Yakupov's wallet isn't the only beneficiary of his decision. His development has been enhanced by his time in the KHL, where's he's added muscle and has learned to fire in volume. But he's been something less than advertised in this series, book-ending brief flashes of brilliance with extended stretches of ineffectiveness as a direct result of some selfish play.
Maybe a bit of adopted home cooking is exactly what he needs to finally make an impact on this series. Or maybe he'll find out what it's like to be the target of an aggrieved fan base at the RBC Centre.
A Russian winning streak? The Russians were outplayed for long stretches on Thursday night in Guelph, scratching out just nine shots through the first two periods. But it was their opportunism that earned them a 2-1 win, their first in 19 tries against the Ontario Hockey League's best.
It was a humbling turn of events for the O, which had relied on superior talent and a healthy helping of Canadian desire to put together a winning streak that dated back to the series opener in 2003. On the bright side, Monday night's team is a feistier group perfectly suited to stop the Russians' streak at one.
The OHL defense will be led by Team Canada locks Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins) and Scott Harrington (Pittsburgh Penguins), along with darkhorse candidate Frankie Corrado (Vancouver Canucks) and big bruiser Adam Pelech (New York Islanders). It's a sturdy group that will keep chances to a minimum and make the Russians pay dearly for every one they get. Up front, keep an eye on Tom Wilson (Washington Capitals) and Anthony Camara (Boston Bruins), a pair of bangers with some finishing touch.
One last chance for Jordan Binnington? His dream of earning a spot on Team Canada for the 2013 World Juniors likely died after he allowed two goals in quick succession in the OHL's 2-1 loss on Thursday, but the St. Louis Blues prospect could get one more chance to make up for that disastrous performance tonight.
There were no deductions for the first goal he allowed in Game 3 after Anton Schenfeld undressed Slater Koekkoek (Tampa Bay Lightning) at the blueline and then wired a shot into the top corner. There aren't many goalies who can stop that one. But just 23 seconds later, Binnington was well out of position after he misread Maxim Shalunov's intentions when the Russian winger crossed the blueline, allowing a simple wrister to beat him five-hole from 45 feet out.
It was exactly the kind of spirit-crushing goal that has plagued Canadian goaltending of late in international play. Not just soft, but at the worst possible moment.
Zach Furcale is just 17, but he was nails in the 5-2 Game 2 win for Team QMJHL. He's sure to earn an invite to Team Canada's WJC camp next month, along with presumed starter Malcolm Subban and Laurent Brossoit, who'll play for the Western Hockey League against Russia later this week. That leaves one camp spot up for grabs. Binnington has been lights out with the Owen Sound Attack, posting a .928 save percentage with a 2.33 GAA, but all anyone will remember is that Shalunov shot sailing between his legs...unless he rewrites his story tonight.
Age before beauty: Jonathan Drouin lived up to the hype in Game 2, showcasing the explosiveness and creativity that suggest he's ready to represent his country, not just his league, the next time the Russians come calling.
But Drouin, for all his skill, is just 17 and Hockey Canada is the organization that sent Ryan Nugent-Hopkins packing last year, and Tyler Seguin the year before that. HC prizes physical maturity and experience for the junior nats, which gives an edge to players like Seth Griffith (Bruins), Dan Catenacci (Buffalo Sabres) and Tyler Graovac (Minnesota Wild), all of whom will be on display in Sarnia on Monday night.
None can match Drouin's likely draft pedigree --Catenacci was taken in the third round, Griffith the fifth, and Graovac the seventh -- but this exercise is about winning now, not five years down the road. Griffith's versatility seems to give him an edge over the other two guys, but this showcase could help change the narrative. Graovac scored a beauty in the Game 3 loss and is the OHL's leading goal scorer. Catenacci -- the OHL's first-overall pick in 2009 -- plays a two-way game that's as good as any in the league. All three bear watching.
What's up with Ryan Murphy? The Carolina Hurricanes' first-rounder was a late cut from the Canadian roster last year and considered a lock for 2013, especially with Kitchener coach Steve Spott behind the bench. That thinking probably hasn't changed yet, but maybe it should. More than one scout has pointed out that Murphy has been flat of late in OHL play, slow of foot and slower with his decision making. That passivity was again evident in Guelph in Game 3 against the Russians, with passes going awry and Russian forwards blowing past him. The lingering effects of last season's concussion? Maybe. But he's not the same player he was this time last year.
Canada has too many options on defense for Murphy to be considered a lock at this point. Another off performance against Russia could put his spot in real jeopardy.
Feeling a draft: Ontario will dress a pair of 2013 first-round hopefuls in Max Domi and Kerby Rychel. Both have familiar names but play an offensive style that is distinctly different from their fathers. Domi looks like he has the higher upside, but there's a fiery competitiveness in Rychel's game that might make him the safer bet.
The Russians could dress five draft eligibles. Valeri Nichushkin has played in two games so far, but has been unnoticeable. He's a plus two, but hasn't gotten on the score sheet. Nikita Zadorov lived up to his rep in Game 3, playing a solid, physical game and Valentin Zykov showed some net drive. Bogdan Yakimov and Pavel Koledov have yet to make much of an impression.
11/5: Russia 6, QMJHL 2 | RECAP
11/7: QMJHL 5, Russia 2 | RECAP
11/8: Russia 2, OHL 1 | RECAP
11/12: OHL 2, Russia 1 | RECAP
11/14: Russia at WHL (Vancouver)
11/16: Russia at WHL (Victoria)