The scoreboard read 11-3 as the U.S. thumped Denmark for its first victory of the 2012 World Junior Championship. The U.S. thoroughly dominated an inferior opponent after what could only be called a sloppy first period. Despite the score and the efficiency of the offense, there’s plenty for the U.S. to work on in practice.
While the score read 11-3, I never got the feeling that Team USA ever got to its top gear. Basically this is a game in which we didn’t learn a whole lot about this edition of the U.S. National Junior Team, and perhaps that’s alright. If you’re going to play the group’s weakest team in the first game, you don’t want to give too much away to your stronger opponents.
That said, the U.S. looked a little too loose at times. Those instances of loose play led to penalties, mental mistakes and sloppiness. All three times Team USA went on the penalty kill, Denmark scored.
So the game left a few causes for concern, but that’s to be expected in the early stage of the tournament. Team USA’s problems are also fixable.
After the jump, complete analysis of Team USA’s 11-3 victory over Denmark.
A Look at Team USA
Team USA certainly established an offensive presence in the game. Denmark’s weak goaltending may have led to the laughable score line, but there’s no doubt the U.S. was getting pucks to the net. Eighteen of Team USA’s 20 skaters found themselves on the score sheet at the end of the night. That’s a pretty incredible accomplishment, no matter the opponent.
Charlie Coyle posted a hat trick, as his line with Jason Zucker and Brandon Saad proved to be the force it looked like it would be on paper. Zucker had a three-point night himself, with a goal and two assists. Saad posted an assist, but brought the physical game.
The line that excited me the most was Austin Czarnik with Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad. That line simply flew. Rau had a pair of goals, while Bjugstad notched one of his own and Czarnik posted two assists. Czarnik was easily one of Team USA’s best players from the start of the game to the finish.
The group of Bill Arnold, Emerson Etem and Josh Archibald recorded the highlight of the night as Etem made a great individual effort to get a one-handed pass to Archibald, who calmly sent a cross-crease pass to Arnold who converted the attempt on net. Etem showed off his wheels a lot in this game and flashes of his skill.
J.T. Miller bounced around lines a bit, starting the game as the team’s 13th forward, but played his role well, getting a goal out of the deal. The line of T.J. Tynan, Austin Watson and Connor Brickley got jumbled every now and again, particularly after Brickley left the game with a cut on his leg. (Side note: Per a source, Brickley’s cut is not thought to be serious and he should not miss any time. He will be reevaluated Tuesday.)
The forward lines may get jumbled a bit from time to time, but I think the top-six is going to be pretty well set. They were clearly the most consistent offensively and looked like they were beginning to click.
The defense was expected to be a potential weak spot for Team USA and tonight that might have been true. When Team USA struggled in the first period, some of those issues were based on mistakes by the defensemen. All three of Team USA’s penalties that led to power-play goals for Denmark were taken by defensemen.
As the game went on, the D got better. It looked like there may have been some early-game jitters. Things were a little unglued on the back-end. There were a lot of stretch passes that ended up as icing calls, there were some unsettled decisions being made and some mistakes made up for with another mistake.
The D was by no means bad overall. There was some quality play. Jarred Tinordi, save for an untimely delay of game penalty, was a pretty steady presence and scored a goal. Stephen Johns also had a goal from the blue line. Jon Merrill didn’t look too bad for his first meaningful game this season, though he certainly wasn’t at his best. Jacob Trouba made some youthful errors early, but showed that he can skate and be physical and stronger than most of his opponents. Adam Clendening made a few bad decisions, but still looked like he was moving well and getting pucks up ice. Derek Forbort had one of those games where you just didn’t notice him, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. Kevin Gravel had some limited ice time and took a pretty serious knock to the head, but he showed that mobility that helped him earn a spot on the team.
Goaltender Jack Campbell probably doesn’t feel great about the game, but I wouldn’t expect his confidence to be shaken. Campbell made 21 saves on 24 shots, with each goal coming on the power play. The one concern is that all of the shots were perimeter shots and the second goal looked like one Campbell should have had.
It was the right call to keep Campbell in the game despite the fact that it was well in hand in the third. You have to give your goaltender every chance to get settled after a shaky first period. He looked better in the third and should be well prepared going into the Finland game.
Some other notes on Team USA’s overall play…
The penalty kill allowed Denmark’s power play to go 3-for-3. That happened.
The U.S. appeared to go with a more passive PK, with not much pressure on the Danish points. That passivity allowed Denmark more than enough room to move the puck and get clear shots to the net. Sure enough, all three goals came from the outside.
The U.S. hasn’t spent a lot of time on the penalty kill in practice, and may have just tried to keep it really simple in its first game. As mentioned above, you don’t want to show your entire bag of tricks in a game against a fairly weak opponent.
There will certainly be adjustments made on the PK, whether it be personnel or system-wise.
Special teams-play is a crucial facet of the game in an international tournament. Many times it can be the difference between winning and losing. The U.S. has plenty to work on there.
Team USA’s power play seemed to be working just fine. It all comes down to making good decisions and, for the most part, Team USA did that. When the power play wasn’t working, it was more because certain players were trying to force plays that weren’t there, leading to poor shot selection and ill-advised passes. When the Americans kept it simple and took advantage of the shots that were given to them, they had success.
Team USA Player of the Game
After every game at the World Junior Championship, a player of the game is named for each team. Charlie Coyle got the nod for the U.S. against Denmark and it was well deserved.
Coyle notched a hat trick, which in hockey is good. However, the best thing that Coyle accomplished was establishing a net-front presence in the offensive zone. His first goal came off of a tip from a point shot. His other two goals came from establishing a presence in the slot. If Coyle is going to produce, he’s going to do it from below the circles to about the faceoff dots.
He has a big body that will help him get position and he has good finish from that area. It might not always be pretty, but it doesn’t matter how they look. Team USA needs Coyle to maintain his net front presence in all games.
Honorable Mention: Austin Czarnik — The small forward was all over the place in his first World Junior contest. Czarnik showed that high-end speed and play-making ability. He also played the body, despite his 5-foot-8 frame. His tenacious style allowed him to create offense. He was a spark plug when the U.S. looked a little sluggish.
Team USA has Tuesday off, but will be back in action against Wednesday against Finland, a team that is still smarting from an 8-1 loss to Canada. A full preview of that preliminary-round game will come Wednesday morning.