The areas the Soviets have particularly-worked to improve since 1972 are face-offs and getting their defensemen to play more offensively. Soviet defensemen no longer hesitate to shoot from the blue line. At the same time, they also are tougher around their own net; in this series NHL forwards will not be able to set up light housekeeping in front of Tretiak the way Phil Esposito did in 1972. This new breed of defenseman is best represented by 20-year-old Sergei Starikov, captain of last year's world champion Soviet Junior Selects. Starikov is fast, a punishing checker, and moves the puck out of his own zone well. He is the Soviet Larry Robinson.
There will be two keys to the series. First, the Soviet power play, led by the Kharlamov line, is so devastating that the NHL players must stay out of the penalty box. The second is more interesting. It is based on a fundamental difference in philosophy between the two teams. The Soviets believe in puck control—you cannot score if we have it. The NHL believes in territorial advantage—you cannot score from your own end.
Shooting the puck into the corners and then chasing after it, a common offensive tactic in North America where the rinks are smaller, is almost never employed by the Soviets. If the NHL can forecheck effectively, it will probably win. But the Soviets have been practicing on rinks that have had the corners rounded to more closely resemble Madison Square Garden's, where there is little room to maneuver behind the net. If the Soviets can break out of their zone consistently, their superior passing game and overall team speed may prove too much for the NHL to handle.
This would leave the NHL to ponder the road it has chosen and the words that Tretiak wrote in his autobiography: "The games with the professionals, regardless of the cost, are undoubtably good for hockey...[which] like every other living thing, can develop only through struggle."