The score reads 4-0, but was it really that close? Team USA shut out a determined German club that got some really outstanding goaltending from Niklas Treutle last night. There are so many things that Team USA was able to build on tonight. This is slowly becoming a well-oiled machine. Each game just seems to bring more confidence. The win gives the U.S. sole possession of first place in Group A, and puts the Americans in the driver’s seat to earn a bye to the semifinals.
There was a lot of good news last night. First, Brock Nelson and Jeremy Morin were back from injury. Not only were they back, but they both played well. It didn’t look like they missed any time at all. Both took some contact in the game and didn’t seem phased a bit. Allain did sit Morin for the third period, but it was strictly precautionary.
While it was great to see those two back, the thing that stands out most about this game is the developing juggernaut that is the line of Charlie Coyle, Kyle Palmieri and Chris Kreider. As I watched the game, I found myself continually writing down, Coyle-Palmieri-Kreider. They accounted for two goals, a zillion chances and seemed threatening on each shift. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought these guys had been playing together forever. The chemistry is just nuts.
Coyle, who leads the U.S. with five points (2-3), opened the scoring with a great goal that was a result of just finding a way to the net and taking that high-percentage shot. He continues to impress me with each game he plays. He’s a first-year guy that looks like he’s been there before. It helps that this youngster has not one, but two returnees from last year’s gold medal squad on his wings. He was named Team USA’s player of the game and rightfully so.
Palmieri’s performance continues to impress as well. He’s a difference maker and has shown the poise and maturity that can only be acquired through experience. It shows that he’s had time in the NHL and he carries himself on the ice with such confidence, its hard not to notice. He’s tied for second on this U.S. squad with four points (2-2).
Kreider got the fourth goal for the U.S. after a beautiful set up from Palmieri, who also got a nifty little feed from Coyle just prior to dishing it off himself. Kreider leads this line with 10 shots on net (fourth on the team). So even though he’s not scoring as much, he’s generating chances.
There are elements of just about everything on this line. Kreider brings the world-class speed, Palmieri brings the elite skill and Coyle gives you that big body. Each guy is showing versatility too. Can’t say enough about the way they have played thus far.
Jack Campbell had another great game. You say, “Well, he didn’t have much to do back there.” I say, that made it all the more impressive. When Germany got chances in the second period, Campbell didn’t flinch. He made a few key saves in tight and showed that focus that I love to see. To me, he looked best in this game when making saves. Everything was in control, everything was slowed down. I have quietly thought that he hadn’t looked himself in the first two games in the manner of body language and positioning. Tonight, he was picture perfect. I’ll have a post later today on why I LOVED the move for Keith Allain to pull Campbell with 9:33 to go in the game. So check back soon.
I couldn’t write about this game without talking about Nick Bjugstad either. He’s a guy that I thought was a long shot for the team, and boy was I wrong. He’s been really good. The best part about him is that he’s been improving each game. He assisted on Jon Merrill’s goal by just making a good play to get off the half wall. He calmly skated to the open space and just served Merrill up. Bjugstad has also been used on the power-play as the net front guy, and has excelled in the role. He’s out-muscled a bevy of defensemen over the course of the tournament and makes life tough for the goalie. His strength and size have been tough to match up against. He’s also had a ton of chances with 11 shots on net (second on the team).
Jerry D’Amigo also scored a goal and I think he’s just starting to get hot. He had a very solid effort tonight and just continues to look more and more like his old self. He also took another shot last night, this time it was a hit from behind courtesy of Bernhard Keil. Tweeted D’Amigo after the game:
@JerryD91 I think there’s a big red circle with a red dot in the middle on the back of my jersey lol
Well, at least he’s got a good sense of humor about it. He has been a constant target for opponents, but that’s just how much they worry about his game. He can be dangerous and opponents want to make it tough on him. Though I can understand if D’Amigo gets frustrated about constantly being part of some dangerous plays.
I had mentioned in my game preview that I thought some of Team USA’s defensemen would step into the spotlight a bit in this game. Jon Merrill certainly did with a goal and an assist. He leads Team USA’s D corps with four points (1-3) and is tied for second overall on the team. Merrill has such poise and control out there. His long stride make him look like he’s barely working on the ice, but he competed pretty hard last night. His goal came off of a deflection, but it was a result of getting the puck to the net quickly. Keith Allain had high praise for his defenseman, telling Mike Morreale of NHL.com, “Jon has been a rock for us.”
John Ramage continues to show why he’s such a great captain. He’s as steady as they come and made some excellent plays in this game. The best play was in the first period when he broke up a 2-on-1 while sliding towards the player with the puck, forcing a bad pass that ended up being deflected by Ramage’s stick to the corner. Heady play, great execution. Just solid throughout the game was the Chesterfield, Mo. native.
As a team, the U.S. did a lot of little things right. They got loads of chances in close, while putting 48 shots on goal and only allowing 14. Team USA might have been caught a few times in the second period being a little too easy on the puck, allowing Germany to get those 10 shots on goal during the period. However, they were just plain stingy in the first and third frames, allowing just two shots in each.
The reason there were so few shots against? Team USA always seemed to have the puck. Every power play was spent in the German zone, every pass through the neutral zone connected, and every puck in the D-zone made its way out quickly.
I give the Germans a lot of credit. Walking out of that contest with a 4-0 win doesn’t feel good, I’m sure, but it feels better than an 8-0 or 10-0 score. Had Treutle not been on his game, it could have been uglier.
All that stands between Team USA and a bye to the semifinals is Switzerland. The U.S. can earn the free pass with a win of any kind, even if Finland beats Slovakia tomorrow. To be in control of their own destiny has to be exciting for the Americans. It also puts some added pressure on the squad as it goes into this game against Switzerland, who should provide a big challenge to the U.S. side. We’ll have a preview coming up later today, so stay tuned for that. Gotta love New Year’s Eve hockey!
Below are some post-game links for your enjoyment:
– Here’s your most up-to-date stats for Team USA, courtesy of IIHF.com. Something to note, Team USA has only taken six total penalties in this tournament. Wow.
– When reading post-game recaps, I usually go to NHL.com first. Mike Morreale is doing a phenomenal job out there in Buffalo, seriously. Here’s his post-gamer. Compelling, and rich.
– Harry Thompson, the managing editor of USA Hockey Magazine, had a great piece for USAHockey.com regarding the return of Jeremy Morin and Brock Nelson. Harry got some nice quotes from the players on getting back out there and thoughts from Keith Allain on their return.
– If you haven’t been reading the stuff over at Buzzing the Net, start now. It’s been a daily stop for me throughout the tournament. Come for the World Juniors, stay for Canadian Hockey League news and notes.
In other news:
– The U.S. National Under-17 Team improved to 2-0-0 at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg with a 4-1 win over Germany. I’ll have more on that later today.
– Another IIHF tournament is getting underway this week. The IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship, which is in just its fourth year of existence, starts Jan. 1 in Sweden. The U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team earned a 6-2 exhibition win over the host country yesterday. I think this tournament might be one of the keys to helping develop women’s hockey outside of North America. It should serve as a great training ground for years to come, but in the short-term it’s basically a USA-Canada event. Still, a great chance for some young girls to represent their countries on a world championship stage.