IIHF MWC: USA-Finland Recap

The U.S. Men’s National Team did their mommas proud on Mother’s Day. A 5-0 win over defending champion Finland showed what Team USA looks like at its very best. The win vaulted Team USA into second place in the Helsinki Group and, more importantly, clinched a spot in the quarterfinals.

I’ve been following the tournament closely for the last five years and, hands down, Sunday’s win was the gutsiest performance out of a men’s national team that I’ve seen.

HHOF/IIHF Images on Ice

Team USA played with speed and grit against the often pesky Finland. The forecheck was as intense as we’ve seen out of the U.S. squad and the result was a goal parade.

Meanwhile, Team USA’s defense was as strong as it’s been all tournament. The U.S. was able to beat Finland at its own game in the defensive zone, by collapsing to the net and completely taking away the slot. Finland wasn’t able to do a thing offensively in this game, only managing 18 shots.

It was the most complete performance the U.S. has put together and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Going against Finland, who had a 4-0-0-1 record coming into the game, this was a game the U.S. came in as the underdog. The Americans beat the defending champion in its own building. Talk about a confidence builder.

Coming up after the jump, some more notes on Team USA’s 5-0 win over Finland, the U.S. Player of the Game and some post-game links.

Scott Gordon shook up the lines today for the first time all tournament, and it appeared to pay off. Here’s a look at how Team USA started things out Sunday:

Ryan Lasch – Paul Stastny – Max Pacioretty
Bobby Ryan – Craig Smith – Kyle Okposo
Cam Atkinson – Justin Abdelkader – Kyle Palmieri
Joey Crabb – Nate Thompson – Patrick Dwyer
Jim Slater

Moving Bobby Ryan down to the second line with Kyle Okposo and moving Craig Smith in between them balanced out Team USA’s attack a little more. Ryan Lasch moved up to the Max Pacioretty-Paul Stastny line and was able to get a little more time and space.

The U.S. also got a fair amount of jump from its third line with Justin Abdelkader centering Cam Atkinson and Kyle Palmieri. That line came up with Team USA’s second goal that gave Team USA an edge in the second period. Palmieri, who was a healthy scratch Friday, scored by getting to the net hard, which is tough to do against Finland, but something the U.S. did consistently Sunday.

The relentless forechecking and constant pressure from Team USA’s forward lines gave the U.S. D corps a little bit of an easier time. The forwards were drawing penalties, getting to loose pucks, putting a body on defenders every time and straight up outworking the Finns.

It wasn’t all about the forwards though. Team USA’s defensive group was simply stifling. Finland never had a chance to set up any sort of possession in the American zone. The U.S. D also was strong in transition, both getting back defensively and helping set up the offensive transition.

Meanwhile, defenseman Justin Faulk, Team USA’s youngest player, was making great plays all over the ice. The defenseman scored the Americans’ third goal, a power-play tally on a rocket one-timer. He now has four goals in the tournament, with three coming in the last two games. As he continues to settle in and get comfortable, he’s begun to take over games. That’s pretty impressive work out of the 20-year-old.

Jimmy Howard had to make only 18 saves, but kept things pretty simple between the pipes and made sure he was there if Finland managed to get through. It was a nice game for Team USA’s netminder and further cementing him as the go-to guy in net.

All facets clicked at one time. Most teams can’t lose when that happens.

Perhaps most importantly, the compete level overall for Team USA was as high as we’ve seen in the tournament. With just one preliminary-round game left, the U.S. has to maintain that compete level throughout. With an already clinched spot in the quarterfinal, seeding is still potentially on the line against Switzerland. It’s also a chance to head into the medal round on a high note.

As soon as Team USA gets past that Switzerland game, the margin for error becomes even slimmer as the tournament heads into single-elimination. Playing with the energy and the jump the U.S. showed against Finland makes Team USA a legitimate medal contender.

Here’s a look at all five goals from Sunday’s game (in Finnish, sorry). Pacioretty’s and Faulk’s were particularly pretty. (via Puck Daddy)

U.S. Player of the Game

NHL.com

Max Pacioretty

Justin Faulk received the award after the game, very deservedly, might I add, but I decided to give the nod to Pacioretty for his two-point performance and overall strong, sturdy play against Finland.

Team USA’s defense succeeded in large part because of the forechecking and physical play of its forwards. Pacioretty was one of the best at providing all of that, plus his typical production.

The big forward now has 10 points in tournament play, which leads the team and is tied for third among all tournament point-getters.

No matter the situation, Pacioretty has found a way to produce. Having a guy you can depend on for points makes a huge difference going forward. He’s brought the same intensity and same competitiveness every game out.

One thing Pacioretty has also done this tournament is pad his 2014 Olympic résumé with every point. A lot of players might have said no to this tournament, but Pacioretty has shown why it’s not a bad idea to say yes. Coming off of a career year in Montreal, Pacioretty was already on the 2014 radar. Proving he can play against international competition and dominate? Write his name down in ink for next summer’s orientation camp.

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The game wasn’t devoid of controversy. Alex Goligoski was lucky to escape injury after he was boarded from behind by Anssi Salmela. The Finnish forward was ejected from the game and received a five-minute major penalty. Salmela may also supplementary discipline from the IIHF.

Here’s a look at the hit:

Goligoski was evaluated by the athletic trainers and doctors on staff and returned to play.

Since Goligoski was not significantly injured on the play, Salmela is not likely to lose significant time, but I would not be surprised if he gets at least an extra game suspension.

UPDATE: Per the IIHF, Salmela has been suspended three games for his hit on Alex Goligoski. Salmela will miss Finland’s last preliminary-round tilt, as well as the quarterfinal and, if Finland advances, the semifinal. It is a harsh, but fair punishment. The IIHF has taken dangerous hits very seriously in this tournament, and this three-game ban is further proof that the IIHF won’t tolerate recklessness.

It was a pretty scary play that could have ended with a much worse result.

Luckily, Goligoski skated away and was able to keep playing.

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Links

Here is the IIHF’s official game sheet from the 5-0 win.

Max Pacioretty, as mentioned leads Team USA with 10 points, including eight assists, also a team best. Justin Faulk is second on the squad with seven points, including four goals, tops on Team USA. He also leads Team USA with a plus-7 rating. Here’s a look at Team USA’s stats through six games.

Evgeni Malkin leads the tournament with seven goals and 13 points. Here’s a complete look at the scoring leaders at the IIHF World Championship

Brian Pinelli of USAHockey.com has a feature on Team USA’s “all-around win.”

Kevin Allen of USA Today got some post-game reaction from Scott Gordon and Max Pacioretty.

The U.S. will meet Switzerland Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. EDT. The game will air live on NBC Sports Network. Expect a full preview of Team USA’s final preliminary-round game Tuesday morning.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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