IIHF MWC: USA-Canada Preview

Without the fanfare of USA-Canada games of the World Juniors or Olympics, the North American rivals will square off in Helsinki Saturday on Day 2 of preliminary-round action at the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Championship. While it may not have as much attention as we’re used to for a USA-Canada match-up, it’s still an important game for both teams at this early stage of the tournament.

When these two clubs square off at noon EDT (due to Kentucky Derby coverage on NBC Sports Network, the game will air on tape delay at 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday), it should be a fairly intense and fast game. Canada is certainly the deeper of the two teams on paper, but this U.S. team has some scrapiness to it, to go along with terrific team speed.

We’ll learn a lot more about both teams Saturday. The U.S. cruised past France, 7-2, Friday, while Canada had a bit of a tougher test against Slovakia, holding on for a 3-2 win.

Coming up after the jump, some more notes on USA vs. Canada, including key players to watch for each team.

The U.S. got a lot of production from its top two forward lines and top-five defensemen. Those are the guys that will have to be clicking against a team as deep as Canada. Team USA will also have to be on its toes defensively against an incredibly talented forward group that includes a litany of NHL All-Stars.

Canada may have only beaten Slovakia by a goal, but its forwards, including former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, were generating plenty of quality scoring opportunities, putting up 30 shots. Meanwhile Cam Ward was strong in net and Canada’s defense, which includes former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, was fairly stingy.

On paper, this looks like a gross mismatch, especially when looking at the forwards. Canada has a lot of players that have had a lot of success at the NHL level, production wise. The U.S. essentially has two lines, and more realistically four forwards that would be considered on par with most of what Canada has brought to the table.

That said, the defensemen for the U.S. can certainly create offense, which they’ll likely need to do a little more conservatively against a highly-skilled Canadian forward corps that has a proven scorer on every single line.

It will come down to defensive responsibility, work ethic, and as always, goaltending, for this U.S. team. Jimmy Howard looked OK against France, but appeared to be fighting the puck a little bit in the early stages of the game. As long as the American netminder can settle in with a few stops early, he should be able to give the U.S. every chance to win.

A good showing against Canada could go a long way in building confidence and momentum for the remainder of the preliminary round. A loss is not necessarily fatal, as the top four teams in each group make the playoff round, but it makes the road a little more precarious.

Aside from the importance of any tournament game, regardless of lack of fanfare, this is still USA vs. Canada. No matter the level or time of year, it’s a great match-up and a fun game.

Key Players

USA

Kyle Okposo — After scoring a pair against France Friday, Okposo has proven he can make a significant impact on this lineup. Getting on the board early in the tournament is good for building a little momentum and gaining some confidence. Okposo is one of the U.S. forwards that matches up very well skill-wise against Canada’s group up front. He’ll have to assert himself early in this one to keep it going.

Max Pacioretty — After posting three points in Team USA’s opening contest, Pacioretty was named the U.S. Player of the Game. You really can’t hope for a better start if you’re Max Pacioretty. Coming off his first 30-goal season in the NHL, this is a guy who expects to produce now. Playing with Bobby Ryan and Paul Stastny doesn’t hurt either. As Team USA’s biggest forward, Pacioretty has to be ready for a physical match-up with Canada’s tough defense. He has the ability to make a serious impact all tournament, but unless he’s able to perform against the best teams at the event, it won’t matter how well he plays against France.

Alex Goligoski — Goligoski put up two assists in the tournament opener despite a bit of a shaky start defensively for the U.S. As long as Goligoski picks his spots for turning up the offensive game, he should be able to provide good support for the forwards. Limiting mistakes will be a huge key as well. Goligoski’s elite skating ability and puck skills should go a long way in a game that is chock full of skill guys.

Chris Butler — This might seem like an odd pick, but allow me to explain. One of the more quiet defenseman on this U.S. roster, Butler’s defensive style might come in extra handy against this highly-skilled Canadian outfit. He’s one of the only pure defensive-defensemen for Team USA, which means he may get thrust into a little more ice time as result. Canada has plenty of guys that can hit and provide pressure. Having a steady guy, who can play a physical game on the back end like Butler might not seem like it’s terribly important, but in games like these, it’s crucial.

Canada

Ryan Getzlaf — Team Canada’s captain saw a lot of ice time in the 3-2 victory over Slovakia, notching one assist. He was buzzing for much of the game generating chances and creating opportunities for his teammates. He played on a line with Ducks teammate Corey Perry and Jamie Benn, making for a significantly dangerous trio.

Corey Perry — The former Hart Trophy winner didn’t register a point against Slovakia, but, uh… he’s a former Hart Trophy winner. You know the points will probably come for Perry and the U.S. will have to do everything in its power to make sure it doesn’t start against them. Perry plays a very frustrating style of hockey, too, which should give Team USA’s defense a little bit of trouble. He’ll be moving in hard on the forecheck and bringing the heat physically. Perry is a guy the U.S. will have to be aware of at all times.

Jordan Eberle — He’s been a hero at the World Junior level and there’s no reason to expect any different from him at the senior level. Eberle has a penchant for big goals while wearing the maple leaf on his chest. He posted a goal against Slovakia (though it was a bit flukey) while playing on a line with Oilers mate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alexandre Burrows, who ended up leaving the game with an upper-body injury (he’s listed as day-to-day). Eberle’s skills make him awfully dangerous and is yet another cause for concern for the U.S. defense.

Duncan Keith — The former Norris Trophy winner led all Canadians in time on ice against Slovakia, playing 21:18. He also posted a plus-2 rating and one assist. As Canada’s most accomplished defenseman, Keith is a threat at both ends of the ice. He should see plenty of time against Team USA’s top lines and will provide a difficult task for a forward group that didn’t have much trouble against France.

One wouldn’t expect a lot of jumbling of Team USA’s lines from the France game. If there is to be any changes, you might look for Kyle Palmieri to see a little extra time with Team USA’s second line, spelling Ryan Lasch here and there. I would not anticipate Scott Gordon splitting up his top unit of Ryan, Stastny and Pacioretty, which put up a combined eight points Friday.

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Links

Bobby Ryan will go up against the other two members of Anaheim’s RPG line, while Kyle Okposo will take on good friend and teammate John Tavares in the USA-Canada game. USAHockey.com has a feature with comments from all parties on what that should be like.

USAHockey.com has another feature about Justin Faulk’s sensational start to the tournament, despite being Team USA’s youngest player.

Aaron Portzline caught up with U.S. captain Jack Johnson, who said this about representing his country:

“I look at it like every time I’m asked to represent my country, it could be the last time,” Johnson said. “I don’t ever want to turn it down, and I never have. That’s just how I was raised, I suppose. It’s an honor. If I’m physically able to play, I’m on my way. Just tell me when and where, and I’ll be there.”

USA Today’s Kevin Allen spoke with Kyle Okposo after Friday’s win over France. The Islanders forward shared the following thoughts:

“I think we have a pretty good group over here, and I think we are going to come together quickly…

“…The D men are the best group of D men I’ve seen come over here for us,” Okposo said. “They do a great job of moving the puck to the forwards.”

Allen also shared his five reasons why the U.S. could medal this year.

The rest of Friday’s Men’s World Championship Results:

Germany 3 – Italy 0
Czech Rep. 2 – Denmark 0
Finland 1 – Belarus 0
Sweden 3 – Norway1

And last, but not least…. Horrified Dudley Do-Right vs. Horrifyingly Patriotic Hulk Hogan

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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