The U.S. will play Germany tonight in what many have pegged as a potential laugher. I won’t go that far, but I think we all know that the U.S. boasts a superior team, talent-wise. Still every game matters at the World Juniors and Team USA can’t afford to let the foot off the gas pedal.
The U.S. plays a German team that has nothing to lose and even less to gain, which some may say is dangerous. I have no idea what to expect out of Germany, but I’m going to bet they are a prideful group that would love to beat the U.S. on its home soil.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, this game matters as much as any, especially given the outstanding play out of the Finns since their OT loss to the U.S.
Finland has clinched its berth in the medal round with just one game left to play (Dec. 31 vs. a depleted Slovakian team). The Finns have two regulation wins and an overtime loss for seven points. Team USA has a regulation win and an overtime win for five points in the standings at the present.
We’ll go out on a limb and assume Finland wins that Slovakia game for a 10-point total. Team USA will need to get to, or exceed 10 points to secure a bye to the semifinals, probably avoiding either Russia or Sweden in the quarterfinal cross-over round. Team USA can do that with a pair of regulation wins or a regulation win coupled with an OT win.
The Germans are not to be taken lightly despite the fact that they haven’t really done anything offensively in this tournament. A regulation loss would make it awfully tough to catch the Finns.
I don’t expect any let down tonight. The coaching staff just won’t allow this team to get to that point. There were so many positives in the Slovakia game, it would be hard to believe the U.S. is going to take that big of a step back.Team USA has to focus on continuing the momentum and avoiding that stumble.
As we continue to await news on whether or not forwards Jason Zucker, Jeremy Morin and Brock Nelson will be available, the U.S. will need more players to be ready to step up and fill a void. If those three can’t play, Team USA is down to three forward lines, plus one extra player. It means stamina is going to be a factor.
The U.S. also has to play Switzerland the next night, so it will be important to keep the shifts short, but efficient. It would also be nice to see Team USA get out of one game at this tournament without an injury.
I’d also expect to see continued improvement from Team USA’s defense. I thought they were good on both nights, but they just looked like they kept getting better throughout the Slovakia game. I think we’ll see some of these guys step into the spotlight a little bit against Germany.
I also wonder with back-to-back games if Keith Allain goes with Andy Iles or sticks with Jack Campbell as his horse in net. Just something to be aware of as game-time approaches.
As for tonight’s opponent:
Germany has been in every game it’s played to the very end except yesterday’s 5-1 loss to Finland. The Germans went down 4-0 after the first period gainst the Swiss and clawed back to within a goal, but time ran out. Then they lost to Slovakia, 2-1, in overtime, despite out-shooting their opponent for much of the game. It’s been a tough road for this scrappy group, who have already been secured a spot in the relegation round.
This German team has struggled offensively throughout the tournament. Just four players have more than one point and only one, Marcel Noebels, has more than two (1g-2a–3pts). Tom Kuhnhackl, widely thought of as the top player on this team, has been a non-factor. Six shots on goal, no points, 14 PIMs. Ouch.
In net, Germany was thought to be able to rely on Philipp Grubauer. His 5.15 GAA and .868 save percentage won’t exactly inspire confidence. Perhaps Niklas Treutle gets the nod in net against the Americans? Having relieved Grubauer twice, Treutle’s made 27 saves, while posting a 0.90 GAA and .964 save percentage in 66-plus minutes of action.
There isn’t a lot left to be said. Team USA finds itself with a chance to continue to improve, which is what Keith Allain has been looking for. He wants this team to get better every game. They’re on the right track in that regard. I think it’s just a matter of keeping focus and not looking past a wounded German club. Anything can happen.
Team USA’s Keys To Victory against Germany (yes I’m still doing this):
– Don’t sleep on this German team
– Build off of and continue momentum from Slovakia game
– Get bodies and pucks to the net
One last note: I know there are plenty of people who think the WJC should be an eight-team tournament. I’m sure there has been much talk about that after Canada put up 10 on Norway last night. It always seems like the two teams who make it out of the lower division just end up right back there the following year. While there is a point to the argument, there’s a bigger picture here, just like there’s a bigger picture for holding the WJC in other countries.
First of all, the 10-team format just makes the tournament better in my eyes. The tournament length, as it is, is perfect, I think. By holding a relegation round, every game whether a medal is on the line or not, matters (except for those placement games for quarterfinal losers — ick). A team is either playing for its life in the tournament or playing for hardware. There’s something to like about that.
Lastly, and most importantly, it gives other countries in the lower divisions a tangible goal. For countries like Germany, Latvia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Denmark, Norway and the like, the chance to be part of the World Juniors top division gives them more reason to continue to develop players from an earlier age. The NHL is such a long shot for many of the kids in those countries, but playing in the World Juniors gives them valuable experience against the best in the world. It also gives those countries’ national team programs a chance to build for the Olympics and Men’s World Championships.
For those that are bored with these 10-1 games, I understand. But know that the game of hockey is being served in some small way by having two new countries in this tournament every year. Heck… if the World Juniors only included eight teams, would Norway’s national program developed enough for us to be able to learn of Tore Vikingstad?