The U.S. National Junior Team, or at least what is likely to be the final roster for it, took on Finland today in its final tuneup for the World Junior Championship. It didn’t go well. The U.S. lost to the hosting Finns, 5-1, giving up four goals in the third period. Team USA’s roster will be finalized today, so this is a tough way to head into the final decision-making.
While the scoreline is ugly, it’s still a pre-tournament game and hardly time to panic. A penalty-filled game disrupted the flow and put the penalty killers to work. Finland scored three on the power play in the third.
The U.S. won’t see a team more disciplined defensively and as opportunistic as Finland in the tournament, but that’s really no excuse for the offense’s inability to generate much of anything.
There also was Rocco Grimaldi’s first-period goal that was missed by the referee. Grimaldi put the puck in the net, but it bounced off the back bar so quick, the official didn’t see it. With no video review in exhibitions, it stood as no goal. That could have changed things in terms of the final result, but Team USA’s third period was about as bad a period as you’ll see.
Much more after the jump, including Team USA’s lineup, statistics and player notes.
Here’s Team USA’s lines from today, which stayed mostly in tact all game.
John Gaudreau – J.T. Miller – Rocco Grimaldi
Alex Galchenyuk – Vince Trocheck – Riley Barber
Blake Pietila – Cole Bardreau – Ryan Hartman
Stefan Matteau – Sean Kuraly – Tyler Biggs
Mike Reilly – Seth Jones
Shayne Gostisbehere – Jacob Trouba
Jake McCabe – Connor Murphy
Scratched: Garret Sparks, Patrick Sieloff, Brady Skjei, Jim Vesey
Goals: Blake Pietila
Assists: Jacob Trouba (Ryan Hartman should’ve gotten one on the goal, too, I believe, but wasn’t on the scoresheet)
Saves/GA: John Gibson 25/5
Player of the Game: Seth Jones
— Coming into the game, I believe this is the roster Team USA wanted to go into the tournament with. After the game they may have to make one or two decisions that they probably hoped they wouldn’t have to make. The guys that sat today are all still more likely to go home than to stay with the U.S. team, but with how poorly today went, there’s going to be some head scratching and maybe a little second-guessing in the coaches’ room. The players’ entire bodies of work will be up for conversation.
— The U.S. struggled mightily at 5-on-5. The forwards just couldn’t generate enough offensively with Finland’s taking away the middle of the ice. The transition game was sloppy as well, but that’s another thing Finland does so well stopping. There’s too much speed and skill up front for the U.S. to have struggled so much in generating scoring chances.
— Team USA had 33 shots on goal, which sounds like enough, but the number of quality chances pales in comparison to the shot number. Finland is good at keeping shooters on the perimeter and not allowing second chances. The U.S. established zero net-front presence today, which has to change with the number of big bodies up front.
— Too many miscues defensively and on the PK allowed the third period to get out of hand. Team USA struggled to clear the front of its net and gave too many good looks to the point-men. The aggressiveness on the PK dwindled as the game went on. It could have been due to tired legs, but it was a major factor in the three power-play goals against.
— The team speed game never got established enough to be effective. Several individuals showed good speed and tried to spark the transition, but Finland was too good at clogging passing lanes and frustrating the U.S. It slowed the game down. Finland was able to dictate the pace, which took it away from the U.S.
— You can complain about the penalties all you want, but a lot of them were penalties. With the exception of Stefan Matteau’s bogus misconduct for a phantom check to the head, a lot of the calls were the right calls. Team USA has to be more disciplined with their sticks and use their speed to defend better.
There weren’t many great performances, but here are a few.
Rocco Grimaldi — C/W — I thought Grimaldi was Team USA’s most effective forward today. He used his speed to generate chances and had the goal that should’ve counted, but didn’t. He also drew some penalties with his good wheels. He could be a big factor in this tournament for Team USA.
Sean Kuraly — C — I thought Kuraly was the best center for Team USA today at both ends of the ice. He showed good speed and some physicality and was decent at the faceoff dot. He looked much more comfortable today, which should help him get ready to go for the tournament.
Jacob Trouba — D — I thought Trouba was Team USA’s best defenseman today even though Jones was named player of the game. Trouba established his physical game early and contributed a bit offensively. He showed a lot more good than bad today, which couldn’t be said for a lot of the U.S. players.
Seth Jones — D — Jones was on the ice for three of the goals against today and looked a little rusty, but for the most part played well. He got involved in the rush and used his size well. He showed that confidence with the puck that makes him effective.
Others of Note (Good and Bad)
Mike Reilly — D — Reilly played the exact kind of game he needed to play against Sweden Thursday. Today was a bit of the opposite. He never was able to establish his offensive game and struggled in the D zone. He was with Jones for three of those goals against. He has that game-breaking potential offensively, but the D game needs some work.
John Gaudreau — LW — Gaudreau had a few flashes of his high-end skill and distribution ability. He worked well with Grimaldi and the two created a few scoring chances. I think this was an adjustment game for Gaudreau and he’ll get better as he gets more comfortable with the big ice and his linemates.
J.T. Miller — C/W — Miller really struggled today and it was quite a surprise. He had a rough go in the faceoff circle and didn’t generate much of anything offensively. Miller showed some flashes of his physical game, but the lack of offense was a bit concerning. He’s the strong candidate to be the U.S. captain, but today’s game was forgettable.
Shayne Gostisbehere – D — Gostisbehere’s wheels are really solid. He can help the U.S. play that speed game. He had a few bad giveaways today however, which didn’t really factor into the game, but he’ll have to pick his spots a little better. He still has some terrific tools that will help the U.S. play the style they want to play.
Blake Pietila — LW — Pietila’s line isn’t supposed to produce much offensively, but he had the goal on a rebound today. Pietila was effective a lot of the game in on the forecheck and helping out in his own end. He threw his body around a bit and showed off his good skating.
Cole Bardreau — C — The energy-line forward has another solid day penalty killing in the first half of the game. He engaged physically and showed off his good speed. His ability to fit that grinder role is going to be very important.
John Gibson — G — The big goalie had a rough go today with five goals against, but before that third period he was pretty solid. The second period brought a lot of chances for Finland that he was able to keep out. He’ll need to shake this one off and get ready to go. Nothing changes the fact that he’s the go-to guy in the net.
A lot of the rest of Team USA didn’t do enough to be noticeable one way or the other.
The final roster should be announced within the next few hours. Stay tuned for that reveal and full analysis right here on United States of Hockey.