The U.S. played with fire too much and got burned. Now their World Junior Championship is over. Team USA fell to Russia 5-3 in the quarterfinals in Malmo today. A pair of 5-on-3 power-play goals in the second period made up the difference and put the U.S. on their heels for the final half of the game. Team USA’s final placement won’t be decided until the quarterfinal ends, but it will be no higher than fifth.
It is a disappointing result for a team that started the tournament 3-0-0-0. The sting for the Americans only intensifies as losing back-to-back games to their biggest international rivals cost them the tournament.
When it came down to it, Team USA made too many mistakes with penalties and didn’t have enough of a response when the game got tougher to have earned the right to advance. It wasn’t a dreadful effort against Russia, as Team USA led going into the second period 3-2, but it certainly was not good enough at this level.
The thing about short tournaments is that it doesn’t take much to flip a game or a tournament on its head. For the U.S., they couldn’t respond well enough when things weren’t going their way. That goes back to the prelim loss against Canada and now the elimination at the hands of Russia. A lot of players played well, but there just wasn’t enough from the group as a whole to get over the hump.
Coming off the gold medal last year, there was pressure on this team, but there was a large difference between last year’s squad and this one. The depth of talent wasn’t there, but the way this team was built, they had an opportunity to make some noise in the tournament. Unfortunately for the U.S., they came up short and weren’t able to prove they had the depth to overcome the players they lost this year to the NHL or injury.
Team USA Scoring Summary
1. Stefan Matteau (Eichel, Skjei), 8:50. — After a nice play by Jack Eichel to keep the play alive and wrap a shot on net. Matteau won a net-front battle and slammed home the loose puck to make it 1-1.
2. Ryan Hartman (Matteau), 11:23. — After starting the rush, Hartman dished the puck to Stefan Matteau who entered the zone wide with speed. He sent a pass to Hartman who was cutting to the middle. Hartman got hold of the puck and whacked at it with a backhand shot while it was on edge and tied the game 2-2.
3. Nic Kerdiles (Barber), 16:51 — After knocking Riley Barber’s high pass out of mid-air, Kerdiles shot the puck while it was on edge. It knuckled past Vasilevski to make it 3-2. It actually was a great individual play by Kerdiles as this GIF via Japers’ Rink shows:
None. Russia scores twice on the power-play to take 4-3 lead.
None. Russia’s empty-netter sealed the 5-3 win.
Jon Gillies — 20 saves on 24 shots
Other stats of note…
- USA out-shot Russia 33-25. Ryan Hartman led the way with five shots on goal.
- Quentin Shore was the only one of Team USA’s regular centers that finished on the plus side in the faceoff circle. He won seven of nine draws. Andrew Copp won 10 of 21.
- Team USA’s PP went 0-for-4, while Russia’s PP went 2-for-6.
Here are highlights from the game via IIHF:
- The U.S. started the game very well matching Russia’s skill with speed and physicality. Taking a 3-2 lead in the period may have been a little lucky since Andrei Vasilevski was not at his best. The Kerdiles goal was a bit of a soft one, but it fluttered on him and he lost the puck on Matteau’s goal after making the initial save.
- Now for all the bad parts… The U.S. lost their way in the second period thanks to penalty after penalty. The only one that was moderately excusable was Steven Santini’s delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. It’s tough to see on the replay, but it looked like it may have caught the top of the glass, refs thought otherwise. Either way, two 5-on-3 power plays led to two goals for Nikita Zadorov. If you give Russia 5-on-3s, they will score. It’s not they might score. They will score. They did.
- The U.S. actually had a good start to the second period. Ryan Hartman had a golden opportunity to extend Team USA’s lead to 4-2 on a 3-on-1 rush. He passed to Matt Grzelcyk, who one-touched it back to Hartman. His shot was robbed by the pad of Vasilevski on the save of the game. After that, things went south for the U.S. The penalties took the game off the rails.
- One thing the U.S. had trouble establishing after the first period was any sort of net-front presence and an ability to generate chances from the middle of the ice. Not even on power plays was the U.S. getting anything established in the middle. Part of that was Russia’s very disciplined defense. But the U.S. had speed and size and never used it effectively enough against a team that they should have been able to out-work. If you can’t win between the dots, you won’t win. You look at most U.S. losses at this tournament and it was a failure to control the middle of the ice. Absolutely the case in this game.
- That was the best Russian PK I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them a lot at various tournaments over the years. They were very disciplined, but the U.S. didn’t challenge them nearly enough. The U.S. scored 11 power-play goals in their first three games and none against Canada or Russia. Team USA was given good chances late and failed to capitalize with any sort of flow to their PP. That will go down as one of the major failures in this game.
- I thought the officiating in the game was very inconsistent for both sides. I think all the penalties that were called were penalties, so there’s no excuse making here. There was a lot let go in the first and third that wasn’t in the second, though. One memorable no-call was Nic Kerdiles getting boarded in the third period with USA on a power play. Kerdiles and Riley Barber also got hit from behind on the same shift with no calls earlier in the game. I’ve rarely seen that call missed in international play. Only worth mentioning because it’s a dangerous play, not because USA didn’t get power plays. That’s why I loved this quote from Riley Barber, who put the blame on his team, not the refs:
Riley Barber on officiating: “We know that coming in that it’s a tough referee tournament & we should’ve been more prepared for it”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 2, 2014
- Puck management was an issue throughout the game. The U.S. blew up their transition game with ill-advised passes or just not connecting. A lot of the forwards found the puck hopping around on them out there. I don’t know if it was nerves or just a relative lack of skill or what. Team USA was disjointed throughout. Without a good transition game, their speed was moot. A few D-zone turnovers also ended in the back of the net, which is something that will happen often against highly skilled teams like Russia. In the offensive zone, the U.S. got very little sustained zone time. Pucks were in and out of the zone without much bite from the American forwards.
- The U.S. never had enough urgency until it was basically too late. With your back against the wall, you have to take what you’re given. Russia opened the door with late penalties and some sloppiness with the puck, but the U.S. never was quick enough to capitalize. Team USA didn’t play from behind a lot in this tournament, so when it happened, their response was rarely enough. They had good push-back in the first, but after the two power-play goals flipped the score, the U.S. couldn’t find their way back.
- At the end of the game after Russia scored the empty-net goal, the Russian players taunted the U.S. bench. That’s kind of typical of this rivalry, though. Ryan Hartman extended his stick and slashed or high-sticked one of the Russian players, which obviously is not an appropriate reaction to what the U.S. viewed as a disrespectful act by the Russians. However, in the aftermath, one of the members of Russia’s staff, an adult in fact, made an obscene gesture at the U.S. bench. Now… what Hartman did was bad. For sure. Inexcusable. However, it is incredibly disappointing to see an adult act like that in a tournament that is played by teenagers. I don’t care what cultural difference there may be, that is no way for an adult to act. You can see the gif of the gesture here. If nothing else, the Russian staff should get a talking to from the IIHF. Simply unacceptable.
Connor Carrick - Carrick was named Team USA’s player of the game and I thought he had his best effort of the tournament. He was physical, engaged offensively and made a lot of great plays in the defensive zone. He and Brady Skjei didn’t have too many unsettling moments when on the ice and were a solid pair throughout the tournament.
Hudson Fasching — Team USA’s best forward for a lot of the tournament, to me, was Fasching. His play down low in the offensive zone was incredible. He was physically dominant, making skill plays to get pucks to the net and just had all-out effort every shift. He gave the U.S. a PK option and performed well in that role. Once he learns to finish off some of those power drives to the net, he’s going to be a force. He’s eligible to return next year.
Ryan Hartman — Hartman was engaged physically throughout the game, but an ill-timed slashing call (that looked a little bit on the soft side, but was a penalty), and reaction after Russia’s empty-netter was disappointing (he high-sticked a Russian going by the bench). If we focus solely on his play, however, I liked his game for the most part. If he finishes that odd-man rush, it’s a different game. He was very good with Stefan Matteau and Jack Eichel and is a handful for any team.
Stefan Matteau — Aside from a terrible penalty that started Team USA’s parade to the box, Matteau was good for much of the game. His first goal was the result of just being stronger than the guy in front of him and jamming home a puck. His speed and physicality were notable for much of the game, but would have liked to see him get to the net more late in the game. The penalties he took in the tournament were costly though, which puts a black mark on what was otherwise a good tournament.
Will Butcher — I really liked the way Butcher was moving the puck throughout the tournament and again today. On the power play, he was very good as a quarterback. He had to make things happen on the back end and did with patience. Butcher was also good in his own end, which made for less work for Steven Santini defensively. The good news for USA Hockey is Butcher is back next year.
Steven Santini — Save for his very close delay of game penalty, Santini was excellent in his own end. I thought he was remarkable defensively throughout the tournament and was so good physically. When he has the puck, he has patience and makes smart decisions. Santini was never a liability when out there. That delay-of-game penalty was unfortunate, but doesn’t diminish what he did well. Santini could be a top defenseman on next year’s team.
Jon Gillies — Gillies was really fighting the puck early, but settled down as the game wore on. Russia’s second goal was right off a rebound that Gillies probably could have sucked up better, but it was on a fluttering puck. You can’t fault him for the PPGs as those were just absolute bombs from Zadorov that probably would be goals in the NHL. Gillies settled down late, but those 5-on-3 power plays for Russia were too efficient and that’s not on Gillies. Tough way to go out.
Brady Skjei — Skjei made some excellent defensive plays early in this game. I liked him a lot in this tournament and really liked what he did in the first period to shut down some of Russia’s best chances. He does a very good job of sealing off the net-front and closing gaps. I think this tournament is an overall step forward for Skjei developmentally.
Matt Grzelcyk — Today was a tough day for Grzelcyk who lost an edge and gave up the empty-net goal. I didn’t think he played poorly, but his mistakes get magnified due to the goals. It’s too bad. Grzelcyk had a very good tournament and was named one of Team USA’s best three players. I really like where his game was in this tournament, but today wasn’t his day. Grzelcyk had Team USA’s last great scoring chance when he caught a rebound on edge. His shot was stopped by Vasilevski, however. His overall tournament eval will be kinder than the one for the Russia game, unfortunately.
Jack Eichel — This kid made some great plays again against Russia and he was out there to take the biggest draw of the game when on his strong side in the closing seconds of regulation. He won that faceoff and gave the U.S. a good chance to make something happen. Eichel also made Team USA’s first goal happen by winning a battle for the puck and getting a shot away. He is eligible to play in the next two WJCs, so the best is yet to come from Jack Eichel.
I’ll have a full tournament recap coming later this week with player-by-player evals for the tournament as a whole. Think of it like an exit interview type thing.
It’s always sad when this tournament ends, but especially so when it ends early. I really enjoy covering this tournament and am incredibly grateful for everyone who has visited the blog to check it out. Traffic has been way up this year, which is a testament to the tournament interest growing in the U.S., so I am very pleased that you decided to make United States of Hockey part of your World Junior experience. Thanks for stopping by.