In black and white, the U.S. Men’s National Team lost to Canada today, 4-3, in a shootout. However, by forcing overtime, the U.S. earned a point in the standings, which is something to be incredibly happy about. Every point matters in qualification round play, and to get one from a heavily-favored Canadian team is huge.
Coming up after the jump, a full rundown of USA-Canada and some of the things that jumped out to me during the game.
The OTL point was about as hard-earned a point as you can come by in this tournament. Scott Gordon’s group was dominated for much of the game, with Canada out-shooting the U.S. 52(!)-20. Ty Conklin was the story for the U.S. as he made save after save. He clearly gave Team USA every opportunity to stay in the game.
Meanwhile, as was the story against Sweden, the U.S. struggled offensively. However, after two periods, the U.S. was up 2-1. A couple of quick goals from Canada in the third put the game in doubt, but Derek Stepan came to the rescue with a goal that just barely beat James Reimer.
In overtime, the U.S. had a few opportunities to end it, as did Canada, but the shootout would be required. There was no doubt that Canada was at a huge advantage in the shootout with a bevy of offensive weapons at Ken Hitchcock’s disposal. Far deeper than anything the U.S. could put out there.
When Jack Johnson, usually a shootout dynamo, was stopped by Reimer, it didn’t look like it was meant to be. Jordan Eberle and Rick Nash made quick work of Conklin and that was all she wrote. Canada escaped with a 4-3 victory.
Just getting that point is a huge win for Team USA. With games against France and Switzerland, the U.S. has faced its toughest test in the qualification round already and did better than expected. France is up next tomorrow with Cristobal Huet in goal. Switzerland comes up on Monday. If the U.S. can pull out wins in both of those contests, they’ll be in a very good position to finish in the top four of its qualification group.
That said, Switzerland and France are currently slotted at 5th and 6th place respectively. Both will give the U.S. their best efforts in order to bump the Red, White and Blue out of the medal race. The beauty of this situation is that the U.S. is likely in control of its own destiny. The qualification round gets really confusing when we start getting into tie breakers, so I’d advise you to keep a close eye on IIHF.com’s stat page to follow the standings.
Getting back to the effort out of Team USA today, a few observations:
– The Canadian forwards were mystifying in the offensive zone. There were instances where Team USA couldn’t hope to get the puck away from Canada and clear it. This was an example of one team just being better than the other. The Canadians used the ice so well and won so many loose pucks. The U.S. needs to tighten up defensively and quit running around their own zone. It’s hard to remain positionally sound on the big ice, but the U.S. has to have better awareness in its own end.
– Derek Stepan once again proved to be Team USA’s best forward. Centering the top line of Craig Smith and Blake Wheeler, Stepan has been a weapon. His minutes are indicative of his importance to this hockey team. Stepan is averaging over 20 minutes of ice time a game, tops among all forwards and second only to Jack Johnson on the team. Those are huge minutes for a forward, but to be honest, the lack of depth at forward requires it.
Thankfully for Team USA, Stepan has answered the challenge and been a consistent presence offensively for Team USA. His five points (1-4) are tied with linemate Smith (2-3) for the team high.
His vision, patience and poise make Stepan a joy to watch in this kind of role. Rangers fans have to be licking their chops as their young rookie is showing what he can do when the pressure is on.
I’ve been keeping an eye on Stepan since his freshman year at Wisconsin and I am just amazed at his development in the last three years. He went straight to the NHL after a stellar sophomore season. After a great rookie year, he’s keeping it up with this display at the Worlds. Just incredible.
– Jack Johnson has been a rock for this U.S. team. At the time I thought he took a bad penalty, cross-checking Jeff Skinner in the second period. However, it looked more like a soft call on the replay. Additionally, the penalty directly led to Team USA’s second goal when Johnson sprung from the penalty box and slipped a backhander under Reimer. Johnson is relied on heavily by Scott Gordon and why shouldn’t he be? He’s been physical and he’s brought his offensive game. His shootout attempt was pretty poor, which was surprising, but overall, you have to be happy with Johnson’s play so far.
– Mike Komisarek took a terrible penalty in the first period, leaping into Evander Kane from behind, but other than that, he was pretty sound defensively. Heck, he even scored a goal, though I think it was by complete accident. Komisarek plays that mean, physical style that the U.S. needs against teams like Canada. He was solid in front of Conklin, clearing guys out and blocking shots. If he plays like that the rest of the tournament, Gordon can rely on him more in key situations, giving Johnson a breather.
– Ty Conklin was a beast today. His 48 saves carried the U.S. against Canada and he showed that, despite being the oldest guy on the team, he can bring it. I wonder if Gordon opts to give Conklin a breather or let him keep right on going against France tomorrow. I have a feeling Conklin may be able to make the call. If he’s good to go, he should be in there. He made the saves he was supposed to, limited his mistakes and stole a couple of goals as well. All you can ask for.
– The defensive corps continues to be the strength of this team. The lack of depth at forward was never more evident than it was against Canada. However, the U.S. has to push through that and some of the forwards have to step up in a big way. Some guys were virtually invisible today, however I liked what I saw out of Tim Stapleton late in the game. Guys like Stapleton are the ones that can be the difference in close games. Those depth guys need to be more effective for the U.S. Easier said than done, but it’s coming down to the wire here.
Team USA’s game against France will not be aired live in the U.S., as the Kentucky Derby pre-race coverage will be live on VERSUS for much of Saturday. The game will be aired on tape delay at 11 p.m. EDT.
Unlike the game against Sweden, which was bumped to tape delay, I don’t think there’s any need for outrage or frustration here. The Kentucky Derby is kind of a big deal, and with NBC Sports Group having VERSUS as an asset to supplement coverage, they absolutely should. As much as I hate to say it, Derby lead-up is going to get more eyeballs than USA-France.
We’ll have more World Championship coverage Monday after Team USA’s final qualification round match-up with Switzerland. So come on back now, ya’hear?