Coming off a 5-2 victory over Finland, the U.S. will send a new combination of 22 players out at 4 p.m. Thursday to take on Sweden. The Swedes have scored 13 goals so far in the two games they’ve been involved in, so this will be a terrific test at this stage of camp for Team USA.
It’s also the second-to-last game for the American players to prove themselves at this early stage of the evaluation process for the 2013 World Junior Championship. Having a good game against the highly-skilled Swedes would be the best way to make a lasting impression on Phil Housley and staff.
Sweden boasts a lineup that features first-round picks Mika Zibanejad (OTT), Hampus Lindholm (ANA), Oscar Klefbom (EDM) and Filip Forsberg (WSH).
So far, it’s been undrafted Viktor Arvidsson stealing the show with three goals and an assist in two games, while William Karlsson, Anaheim’s second-rounder in 2011, also has three goals.
It sounds like Niklas Lundstrom will get the nod in net today, as the 31st overall pick from 2012 Oscar Dansk (CBJ) is nursing an injury.
Today’s contest should be really intriguing to watch as the U.S. has four defensemen and seven forwards that played in Wednesday’s game against Finland back in the lineup against Sweden.
Coming up after the jump a look at Team USA’s lineup and what to watch for in today’s contest.
Once again, it’s NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman bringing some great content on his blog from camp. He was at the morning skate today getting some thoughts from head coach Phil Housley and a look at who’s playing in today’s game.
Per Kimelman, here’s who is playing today:
Four defensemen who played Wednesday against Finland will remain in the lineup, with Shayne Gostisbehere, Matthew Grzelcyk, Garrett Haar and Brady Skjei being joined by Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba, Patrick Sieloff and Mike Reilly.
Up front, the team’s top line of Sean Kuraly centering Mario Lucia and Stefan Noesen will play again Thursday and is expected to stay together. Other forwards who will stay in the lineup are Alex GalchenyukJohn Gaudreau, J.T. Miller and Nicolas Kerdiles. They’ll be joined by Colin Blackwell, Reid Boucher, Travis Boyd, Blake Pietila, Vincent Trocheck and Jimmy Vesey.
Interestingly, both goaltenders from yesterday’s contest against Finland will be back in the lineup today with John Gibson getting the start. Don’t be surprised if Gibson ends up playing the whole game.
Kimelman got an explanation for that decision from Housley:
“We want to give him work,” Housley said of Gibson, one of three players in camp who was on the U.S. World Junior team last year. “He’s been there before; it’s a big game, so to speak. Sweden is a very good team. We want to see more of Gibby [Gibson] playing against really stiff competition.”
UPDATED: Here’s the latest lineup from Kimelman:
Mario Lucia - Sean Kuraly - Stefan Noesen
John Gaudreau - Vincent Trocheck - Nicolas Kerdiles
Reid Boucher - Alex Galchenyuk - J.T. Miller
Blake Pietila - Travis Boyd - Colin Blackwell
Mike Reilly - Seth Jones
Matthew Grzelcyk - Jacob Trouba
Garrett Haar - Shayne Gostisbehere
Patrick Sieloff - Brady Skjei
What to watch for today:
The line of Lucia-Kuraly-Noesen will get its toughest test of camp so far. The trio has been together for two previous games in camp and have been the most consistent producers. By keeping this trio together, they’re getting a chance to keep building that good chemistry and prove they could be a potential option for Housley come tournament time.
I’d expect to see Gaudreau and Galchenyuk together again and they’ll probably get Miller at least to start. It took these guys a while to get going against Finland, but they showed signs toward the end of the game of clicking and putting things together.
It will be important to watch Alex Galchenyuk today as he looks to shake off what has been a sub-par camp. The second half of Wednesday’s game was the best I’ve seen out of him so far. Going up against Sweden is going to require Galchenyuk’s best effort to be productive.
Johnny Gaudreau started to look like himself in the later goings of yesterday’s game, which is why I think I’ll be expecting bigger things out of him today. The line of Gaudreau-Galchenyuk-Miller, on paper, should produce. Gaudreau could be the catalyst for productivity if he shows that ability to create.
With keeping the same top two lines from yesterday in the lineup today, it’s becoming pretty clear that the U.S. staff has a vision for December and they’re giving this group every opportunity to work in camp. We’ll see if all six get an invite to the pre-tournament camp in December since it is early yet. Still intriguing to watch.
Having eight defenseman in the lineup is going to make for some interesting combinations. I’d expect to see Jones and Reilly get some more time together as that pair was terrific against Sweden in the split-squad game earlier in the week.
Matt Grzelcyk and Shayne Gostisbehere might be competing for the same spot in camp, but they showed Wednesday that they work really well together on the power play.
Jacob Trouba and Patrick Sieloff were common D partners with the U18 team last year and likely will get some time together again today. This is one bruising pair that can make life tough for opposing forwards.
I didn’t mention them in yesterday’s recap, but both Brady Skjei and Garrett Haar had a really strong game against Finland. Both can skate and play the body and showed pretty good defensive smarts. We’ll see if they get paired together some more today.
After the trio of Tyler Biggs, Steven Fogarty and Stefan Matteau had a really effective game in a bottom-six role against Finland, they’ll be sitting out tonight. Don’t be alarmed by it. The competition for spots on the third and fourth lines is really stiff, so it will be interesting to see how today’s crop handles it.
Potential combos for those would be Boucher-Boyd-Blackwell and Vesey-Trocheck-Pietila, with Nic Kerdiles getting plugged into any of those wing spots. I also wouldn’e be surprised if Kerdiles gets plugged into either of the top two lines at some point.
Coming into camp, I think Trocheck was a favorite to earn a bottom-six role and still may be, looking like a good candidate for the No. 3 center spot.
It’s important to note that the “bottom-six” is a little different in the World Junior Championship. Typically the U.S. has gone more with a “top-nine” style, meaning they have a trio of lines that can provide offense and one line that’s more rugged defensively.
Of the bottom six tonight, outside of Blake Pietila, there aren’t a lot of rugged defensive guys. Both Trocheck and Boyd are fair two-way centers, while Jimmy Vesey has shown decent enough ability at both ends. Nic Kerdiles, listed as the 13th forward yesterday, also has the capability to play a strong two-way game. He has the smarts to play in either a scoring or shut down role. We’ll have to see how that impacts Team USA’s effectiveness tonight.
Oddly enough, one of the more effective two-way lines could be Kuraly’s in this game. They’ve played like a No. 1 or No. 2 scoring line, but both Kuraly and Noesen in particular can do well in the defensive end. Perhaps they get some time in that role against one of Sweden’s top lines. So that’d be something to watch as well.
It might only be a summer game, but Sweden has looked formidable so far. The competitiveness should be high as the U.S. and Sweden have been developing a pretty strong rivalry stemming from three consecutive meetings in the gold-medal game at the U18 World Championship. Expect a high-paced, physical contest. Should be fun to watch.
Game time is set for 4 p.m. and it will be carried live on FASTHockey.com.
I’ll have a full recap of the action either late tonight or early tomorrow morning, so stay tuned for that. Also, I’ll be following the game live on Twitter, so you can follow along and feel free to ask questions along the way.
Until then, clandestine reporters and forwards Blake Pietila and Cole Bardreau take us inside the camp: