When is a win not a win? Team USA’s 3-2 overtime win against Kazakhstan is probably a good place to start. The U.S. started out OK, but faded as the game went on and lost leads twice in the game. Until Justin Faulk scored the overtime game-winner, nothing looked assured for the United States. At this stage of the tournament, it’s an unacceptable result.
The U.S. improved to 2-2-0-1 in tournament play, and now has 10 points in the standings, which keeps them in the playoff round. However, with a close game against Belarus and now barely surviving Kazakhstan’s upset bid, doubt has to be creeping in.
Somehow, the U.S. has four wins, but has not looked at all like the team that started the tournament with wins against France and Canada. You normally expect teams to get better as the tournament goes on, as players familiarize with each other and jet lag wears off. That has not been the case for Team USA. They may not have regressed entirely, but clearly have lost whatever it was they had in a 5-4 win over Canada early in the tournament.
What makes it scarier for the U.S. now, is that it will play a pair of games that could have significant implications for the medal round. Finland and Switzerland will both provide incredibly difficult challenges for the U.S.
Coming into today, Finland is the tournament’s top team, while Switzerland is still clawing for a spot in the medal round. If the U.S. plays as it did the last two days, beating either of those two clubs might be too tall an order to expect Team USA to handle.
Coming up after the jump, a look at Team USA’s 3-2 win over Kazakhstan, Team USA’s player of the game, links and more.
To be fair to Team USA, Kazakh netminder Vitali Kolesnik was mostly excellent in the game, making many stops on great scoring chances. It wasn’t an overall poor game for the U.S., it just wasn’t very good. This is a game you’d expect Team USA to win with ease, but it turned into a survival game in the late goings.
Was it lack of preparedness? Taking a team too lightly? Looking ahead? Whatever it was, it can’t happen again.
Coming into today’s game, Kazakhstan was unable to register one point in the standings against the following teams: Finland, Slovakia, *Belarus* and *France*. Kazakhstan had allowed 18 goals in four games, while the U.S. led the tournament with 19 goals for. On paper, it probably should have been a walk for Team USA.
Somehow, the offense sputtered. Part of it was due to the goaltending of Kolesnik, who made 47 saves on 50 shots. However, you’d expect a team with as much skill as Team USA has in to be able to score more than three goals, coming into the game as the top scoring team.
It’s hard to explain today’s tilt. The U.S. didn’t have as much intensity, something that’s been an unfortunately common trait of the last three games. At points of the second period, it looked like Team USA was merely going through the motions. Sloppy errors defensively, another common trait of this team, forced Richard Bachman to make a few good saves, but even Bachman wasn’t mistake free.
Pulling a few positives out of the game…
Justin Faulk had two more goals and now has six points in the tournament. The 20-year-old has been providing a lot of offense from the point. More on him shortly.
Justin Abdelkader had another pretty solid game. The only real concern is his ability to finish, as he had no less than three quality scoring chances and couldn’t bury. Still, Team USA’s third line was for the most part good offensively.
Max Pacioretty’s backhand pass to Justin Faulk for the game-winning goal was pretty, and also Pacioretty’s eighth point in the tournament.
J.T. Brown, who was playing college hockey just a few months ago, has made the most of his extra ice time. He scored Team USA’s first goal on a beautiful shot, making the smart decision to shoot instead of pass on an odd-man break.
Alex Goligoski and Faulk were on the ice for each of Team USA’s three goals. They’ve been an important pair for Team USA offensively and were good enough defensively as well against Kazakhstan.
So there were some bright spots in the disappointment of only taking away two points from Kazakhstan. The U.S. has to regroup with a day off Saturday and refocus in a big way, as it will meet Finland Sunday.
That game will air live on NBC Sports Network at 9:15 a.m. EDT. If the U.S. comes out flat against the defending champs and tournament host, it could be ugly.
U.S. Player of the Game
The actual award went to Kyle Okposo, mysteriously, but Faulk gets the nod here for a couple of reasons. He scored Team USA’s second goal in regulation and the game-winner in overtime. Additionally, Faulk made a key shot block in the second period, when Richard Bachman got caught out of his net. With no goaltender, Faulk got to the net front and blocked a shot that would have been a sure goal without him.
The young defender has continued his impressive tournament. He is second on Team USA with six points and leads all defensemen at the tournament. Faulk has three goals and three assists and has been a threat in every game he’s played. Additionally, Faulk is one of three U.S. defenders that has played over 100 minutes in the tournament.
Despite his youth, he’s played like a veteran, showing poise with the puck and offensive touch. It’s hard to believe he was in the World Under-18 Championship just two years ago.
The official IIHF game sheet for today’s tilt can be found here.
Max Pacioretty has a goal and seven assists for eight points, to lead Team USA. Faulk and Paul Stastny are tied with six points each. Jack Johnson has played a staggering 123:27 so far in the tournament, nearly 21 more minutes than the next teammate. Here’s a look at Team USA’s full stat sheet.
A lot of Borat jokes being made at the expense of Team USA and Kazakhstan on twitter, expectedly.
Expect a USA-Finland preview over the weekend, ahead of the Sunday morning tilt.