IIHF MWC: USA-Kazakhstan Preview

Coming into this game, there isn’t a whole lot to analyze or break down. The U.S. Men’s National Team, with a roster made up almost exclusively of NHL talent and with three wins under its belt, is going up against a team devoid of NHL talent and winless in four games.

Team USA will meet Kazakhstan at 9:15 a.m. EDT Friday. The game will air live on NBC Sports Network, with coverage beginning at 9 a.m.

When it comes down to it, the U.S. simply has to get back to basics and simplify its game a bit more. Trying to to do too much has forced mistakes that have hurt the team. That said, Team USA has a chance to right the ship, so to speak, and focus on playing a 60-minute game.

Team USA undoubtedly is the more talented of the two teams in every facet of the game. Kazakhstan still is a team full of pro hockey players, that will mostly take advantage of the chances it gets, but it will be tough for the Kazakhs to keep up with the U.S.

Coming up after the jump, a few more notes on Friday’s match-up, including key players for each team and links.

These two teams probably couldn’t be further apart when it comes to simple statistics.

Team USA has scored more goals in the tournament than any other team (19). Kazakhstan has scored eight. The American power play ranks third in the tournament (31.3%), while the Kazakhs rank 13th (11.8%).

There aren’t a lot of favorable statistics to throw at Kazakhstan, for the most part. Then there’s that whole “team full of NHLers” thing the U.S. has going for it.

Team USA can’t overlook Kazakhstan, despite the fact that a pair of potentially make-or-break games lie ahead against Finland and Switzerland. The U.S. still hasn’t played their best game. That should be the focus Friday.

It is likely that Richard Bachman will man the nets for Team USA. Jimmy Howard has played every minute so far, and with back-to-back games, Bachman can give Howard a break. The Dallas Stars netminder has never played in an IIHF tournament before, so it should be interesting how he handles the new challenge. Even playing goal is different on big ice. As long as he plays to his capabilities, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the young goaltender.

The only other possible change is Craig Smith entering the lineup. The Nashville rookie had six points in last year’s tournament and showed great maturity in his first IIHF event. If he plays, he’ll essentially be stepping off a plane and into the lineup. Smith will have to get his legs under him in a hurry. It should be interesting to see how Scott Gordon shuffles his lineup with Smith’s addition.

Despite a few changes, it should be mostly the same for the U.S. heading into Friday’s contest. As long as Team USA plays the game it’s capable of playing, it shouldn’t be terribly close.

Key Players

Team USA

Jack Johnson — It took a 10-minute misconduct penalty to Team USA’s captain against Belarus to reveal just how truly important he is to this squad. With Johnson in the box for an extended period, the U.S. defensive corps stuggled in his absence. Without Johnson taking every third, or in some cases every other shift, there was a void. Defense may not come at a premium against a team like Kazakhstan, but Johnson’s presence on the ice and on the bench clearly makes a big difference for this club.

Kyle Okposo — After his stellar start against France, Okposo has somewhat cooled, and Team USA’s second line has cooled with him. The Islanders forward has provided some good chances, but hasn’t shown the finish he displayed against France. Perhaps a strong game, even if it comes against an inferior opponent, will jump start the big forward. At his very best, Okposo is a deadly offensive threat. There’s too much skill there to be this inconsistent, production wise. If he gets going, Jim Slater and Ryan Lasch will too.

Max Pacioretty — The U.S. has not had offensive production like this at this tournament and Pacioretty is leading the charge. With seven points including a tournament-high six assists, Pacioretty is tied for the tournament lead with Evgeni Malkin and Loui Erikkson. Despite his breakout goal-scoring campaign in the NHL last season, he’s been setting the table more on Team USA’s top unit. Bobby Ryan and Paul Stastny each own a pair of goals as a result. Pacioretty has delivered on expectations so far in this tournament.

Kazakhstan

Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev — That is not a typo… I know because I checked the spelling of the name about 16 times, or once for each letter. In addition to leading the team in pissing off the equipment manager for having to stitch on a 16-letter name on the back of not one, but two jerseys, Krosnoslgkdhgdkh is pacing Kazakhstan with three goals. Yes, the man who accounts for 30 percent of the letter budget on this team also has accounted for 37.5 percent of the goals. He’s a big forward at 6-3, 201, so he’ll have to be watched closely by Team USA’s D.

Talgat Zhailauov — Having played a staggering 78 minutes, Zhailauov is leading the team in time on ice. It’s customary for a defenseman to be the team’s on-ice leader, but not for wily ole Kazakhstan. Zhailauov is a forward. He’s posted a goal and an assist, but more amazingly has an even plus/minus rating for a team that has given up 18 goals and only scored eight.

Vitali Novopashin — Team Kazakhstan’s No. 1 defenseman has somehow found a way to play 76:52 on this porous team and still have a plus(!)-2 rating. Novopashin also leads Kazakhstan’s blueliners with two points, both assists. He’s seen quite a bit of national team duty for his home country, so he has plenty of experience. Novopashin is an averaged-sized defenseman that can skate well. To put up the numbers he has on this team almost seems to defy logic. Now the U.S. can see if he’s for real.

Links

Scott Gordon told Brian Pinelli of USAHockey.com that Thursday’s victory over Belarus was a “character win” for Team USA.

Kevin Allen of USA Today caught up with Gordon and Justin Abdelkader for some reaction to yesterday’s game and a look at the tournament so far.

Thursday’s Other World Championship Results:

Russia 3 – Denmark 1
Finland 7 – France 1
Czech Rep. 3 – Latvia 1

And finally, The heart-warming tale of a Kazakh man’s information-gathering trip to America vs. the heroic tale of an American president evicting Kazakh terrorists one-by-one from Air Force One.

GET OFF MY PLANE.

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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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