I’ve had a lot of fun here in the last 12 hours or so writing about being biased and all that stuff. But it’s time to get back to business. There is some great hockey that’s going to be played today in Buffalo and based on the content I’ve had prior to the past 24 hours, I think its time to get back to why many of you come to this blog.
There are so many different things to talk about when we take a look at these two teams.
Both teams have great speed and skill. Both play a physical game and battle throughout.
Again, all of this makes for an exciting game with a lot to keep an eye on. So let’s get to it, shall we?
The U.S. National Junior Team earned a bye to the semifinals. The added rest and recuperation came in handy, as we found out today, thanks to James Duthie of TSN, both Jason Zucker and Jeremy Morin will be in the lineup. Team USA has a full boat. Getting those two back is huge. We still don’t know how much they will play, but to have them on the bench is a boost. Both are returnees from last year’s team, leaders on and off the ice and just good guys to have around.
I already covered the goaltending situation. Jack Campbell is built for games like these and American fans hope he continues his trend of winning.
Keith Allain was on the bench the last time Team USA had a bye to the semifinals, where it met a tough Canadian team in the Czech Republic. Team USA lost that game 4-1 and couldn’t pull it together in the bronze medal game either. Allain told Harry Thompson of USA Hockey this:
“We were tight in that semifinal game and lost to Canada and really didn’t battle against them, and we weren’t really good at all in that game against Russia,” Allain said.
“So I want to make sure we’re loose and confident when we play the game tomorrow.”
Expect the U.S. to try and assert itself early. The first few shifts for both teams will likely be a little bit of a flexing of muscles. There should be some of the best contact of the game in the first five minutes. The key is not going to be who establishes contact, but who handles it better. This is a game where each player knows he’s going to get hit. So being able to accept that quickly is important. As the sign in the locker room states, “Earned, Not Given.”
Nothing will be given to either team tonight. There won’t be a square inch of ice that isn’t hotly contested.
So we know there will be contact, but will there be goals?
Yes. Probably. Canada leads the WJC with 32 goals for, while the U.S. has “only” scored 15 (good for eighth(!) in the tournament). Only is in quotes because I don’t think there is any doubt that the U.S. squad faced stingy defensive teams and two of the best goaltenders in the tournament not named Jack Campbell: Joni Ortio of Finland and Benjamin Conz of Switzerland. They certainly got a lot of rubber to the net. So there were chances.
The fear coming into the game for Team USA, for those on the outside like me, is the ability to score goals against a team that won’t give much in front of the net. Team USA has to establish a net-front presence in the face of constant assault from Canadian defensemen. I think Chris Brown and Nick Bjugstad have done that wonderfully in the tournament and it will have to continue. It won’t get any tougher than it will be tonight.
I expect to see the Chris Kreider-Charlie Coyle-Kyle Palmieri line to get a lot of burn tonight as well. They’ve been generating chances at an alarming pace and as a line have led Team USA offensively. Not knowing how much Morin and Zucker will be used, this line has got to continue their play.
The U.S. also has to be extremely strong in transition, as well. I think the American speed is going to be unlike any else the Canadian blue line has dealt with. The Swedes are fairly close, but I think there’s more on Team USA. Every line seems to have a guy that can just wheel. Canada has a very skilled group of defenseman and very good size back there, but speed can often beat size.
We already talked about the fact that Canada does not boast strength in net. Firing pucks early and often will be the order of the day. No shot is a bad shot, as long as its taken without a Canadian defender right in front of it. Which may be tough. So, when Team USA has a look at the goal, that puck has to get to the net.
Team Canada’s forwards are very good. Brayden Schenn has been the tournament’s best forward, production-wise. His 16 points (7-9) in five games are nuts, regardless of competition. Team USA needs to get to him early. I don’t think he’s the type of player that can get knocked off his game, but I’m sure there are a few American defensemen that would love to try. There are a lot of other weapons for Canada that I can talk breathlessly about, but I think its all well enough documented.
There will be more pressure than ever before on an American defense that has been pretty darn good throughout the tournament. I thought we’d see more offense from this group, but I had no idea their defense would be so suffocating. The U.S. has allowed just 92 shots on goal during the tournament, and an average of 0.99 goals-per game. I’d rather see that than a blueliner with 10 points.
I think the fact that the U.S. has such great skaters on the back end is a huge advantage. This is certainly as mobile a group of defenseman as you’ll find. That will come in handy against some of Canada’s speedier players.
This defensive corps will also have to be prepared for battle in front of Jack Campbell. The crease has got to be a no-fly zone for much of the game. Canada does such a good job of creating traffic, getting pucks to the net and picking up rebounds. The big bodies for Team USA will have to be as tough as ever, but smart.
I think special teams are going to be huge in this game, as they often are in these tight match-ups. I don’t know how the game will be called by the refs, but I’d guess fairly tight. There will be power-play opportunities for both teams.
Throughout the tournament, both squads have been deadly with the man advantage. Canada boasts a 45% success rate, while USA has been successful 38 % of the time on the PP.
On the PK, Team USA has yet to allow a power-play goal all tournament, while Canada has yielded only three. It helps that the U.S. has only taken seven penalties against, with just five power-plays against. That’s discipline. Still, against Canada, I just don’t see either team able to completely stay out of the box.
Lastly, I am sure that this will be a mainly pro-Canadian crowd out there in Buffalo tonight. That really doesn’t bother me at all. The waving flags and the red-clad army probably won’t phase the U.S., I don’t think. I can only hope that the Americans that did get out there are loud and proud tonight. I’m sure many of us wish we could see this thing in person, so if you are headed to the game tonight, cheer for us.
Without further ado, here are tonight’s keys to victory:
– Use speed and physicality to dictate the pace of the game
– Win the net-front battles on both ends of the ice
What’s left to say, folks? USA-Canada. Should be a good one.
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