The U.S. Men’s National Team got exactly the start it wanted with a 7-2 drubbing of France in the opening game at the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Championship. There are a lot of positives that can be taken out of this win, but enough to work on as well before the U.S. takes on a stronger opponent. They won’t have much time though, as Team USA will meet Canada at noon EDT Saturday.
The most important takeaway for Team USA from the 7-2 win is that it got production out of its big guns. Kyle Okposo scored two beautiful goals, Max Pacioretty posted a goal and two assists, Paul Stastny collected three assists, and Jack Johnson and Bobby Ryan each scored on the power play. Getting production out of its star players early is key, especially with the lack of offensive depth.
Coming up after the jump, more notes and analysis on Team USA’s opening-day victory.
Team USA’s “second line” was very good in the contest and saw the most ice time of any of the forward lines. Jim Slater, Okposo and Ryan Lasch were buzzing for much of the game and creating scoring chances throughout.
Meanwhile, the top unit of Pacioretty (1g-3a), Stastny (3a) and Ryan (1g) combined for eight points.
For the first time in a long time at this tournament, the U.S. has a legitimate top-six with enough offensive talent to create chances consistently. With less scoring talent on the bottom two lines, Team USA needs the top two to stay hot. Getting off to a start like this gets the ball rolling.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard was good enough against France, but looked a little shaky for much of the game. Afternoon games are always a little tougher to prepare for, especially when a player is already out of his normal game-day routine and still adjusting to the time difference. Either way, he played well enough and looked to get better as the game wore on. Howard made 21 saves to earn his first career Men’s World Championship win.
The defense had a pair of breakdowns on the French goals and need to shore up things in their own end just a bit before taking on Canada Saturday, but overall they were pretty good.
This is a very mobile group of defenders and they will help contribute to the offense. Johnson and Alex Goligoski led the way playing 22:52 and 22:06, respectively. Johnson scored on a pretty one-timer, while Goligoski’s puck-moving skills were on display with a pair of assists.
Justin Faulk, Carolina’s 20-year-old rookie, posted three assists in the game and saw 19-plus minutes of action. He looked like a seasoned vet out there, mirroring what he accomplished in the NHL in his first season.
Cam Fowler also had an assist and Jeff Petry scored Team USA’s seventh goal.
The U.S. defenseman will have to focus a little more at D-zone coverage on the European ice sheet, but overall played well enough to limit France. Against a better opponent, however, they’ll have to be a little sharper in the D zone and in transition.
Team USA’s Player of the Game
The Islanders forward had two pretty goals, but his motor was going the whole game. He was second among all forward in ice time, playing 19:09.
His first goal was a result of a nice outlet pass by Goligoski. Okposo used speed to catch France in a change, skated in all alone, and froze Cristobal Huet with a shot fake before turning it to his backhand and putting it into the yawning net. Okposo’s second goal was an absolute snipe, finding the tiniest hole in the nearside corner from a tough angle to put it past Huet.
Okposo is what makes Team USA’s second line so dangerous and in turn, makes Team USA’s top-six formidable. If he can sustain this type of play throughout the tournament, he’ll be an absolute force. Getting him going quick is a great sign for Team USA.
Team USA’s Lines
The lines did get juggled a little bit during the contest, but here’s what Team USA started with…
Bobby Ryan – Paul Stastny – Max Pacioretty
Ryan Lasch – Jim Slater – Kyle Okposo
Cam Atkinson – Justin Abdelkader – Kyle Palmieri
Joey Crabb – Nate Thompson – Patrick Dwyer
Cam Fowler – Jack Johnson
Alex Goligoski – Justin Faulk
Jeff Petry – Chris Butler
Among some of the jumbles, Palmieri took Lasch’s place for a few shifts on the second line and ended up assisting on Slater’s goal. Brown replaced Dwyer for a few shifts on the fourth line, which didn’t get a lot of ice time anyway. The D pairings were pretty interchangeable for much of the game.
The power-play units were essentially the top two lines and top four D. Team USA’s power play finished 2-for-6.
Here’s the official IIHF game sheet from today.
Team USA will meet Canada at noon EDT Saturday. The game will not air live on NBC Sports Network due to Kentucky Derby coverage, but will air on tape delay at 7:30 p.m. ET.
You can expect a USA-Canada preview later Friday.