Though the U.S. has secured its spot in the quarterfinals at the Men’s World Championship, the game against Switzerland still carries some significance in terms of seeding. Team USA sits in third place, just two points behind Finland, three points behind first-place Canada and one point ahead of Slovakia.
There are a variety of scenarios that can play out Tuesday (which I’ll get to after the jump), which means the game against Switzerland is not to be treated as a warm-up. With that added motivation and coming off a rousing 5-0 victory over Finland, the U.S. should bring nothing less than its best.
Switzerland, meanwhile, has little to play for besides final placement. They aren’t relegated, but they aren’t moving on to the quarterfinals either. With that in mind, Team USA can only focus on itself and take care of some pretty important business.
Closing out the preliminary round on a high note is important, in terms of showing that the U.S. can actually string together a consistent effort from game-to-game. More importantly, shooting for that second- (or highly unlikely, but possible first-) place finish is the goal.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the different seeding scenarios, more notes on Team USA heading into Tuesday’s match-up and links.
Alright, here’s how this goes…
Finland has finished the preliminary round, so is idle tomorrow. With 15 points, Finland is currently in second place, but can finish as low as fourth in the event of an improbable three-way tie with USA and Slovakia.
Canada plays Belarus early Tuesday. Gaining one point is enough for Canada to clinch first place before the other teams play. However, if Belarus finds a way to beat Canada in regulation (not likely), Team USA can grab first place with a regulation win only, bumping Canada to second. ***UPDATE: Canada defeated Belarus earlier Tuesday, 5-1, and clinched first place in the Helsinki Group. The U.S. can finish no higher than second now.
France, thanks to its stunning victory against Switzerland, still has a chance at getting into the medal round, but can only do so with a regulation win over Slovakia Tuesday. The French can finish no higher than fourth place.
****UPDATE 2: Slovakia outlasted France, winning 5-4 in regulation to grab three points. A win of any kind locks Team USA into second place. That also means the U.S. will meet Finland in the quarterfinal and have the advantage of the last line change. A loss of any kind puts the U.S. in fourth place, and sets up a quarterfinal match-up with Canada. For the sake of avoiding confusion, scroll past the stricken portion.
Now here’s where it starts getting hairy, so I’ll break down any scenario involving Team USA: A USA regulation win puts U.S. in second place, assuming Canada earns at least one point vs. Belarus. (UPDATE: They did). If Canada gets upset, it’s USA in first and Canada in second via the head-to-head tie-breaker. A USA overtime win combined with a Slovakia regulation win results in USA, Finland and Slovakia in a three-way tie, meaning it goes to goal differential in games that include only these three teams. Team USA wins that tie-breaker, putting it in second place, Slovakia in third and Finland in fourth. USA regulation loss combined with Slovakia gaining at least one point, OR a U.S. overtime loss and a Slovakia OT win ends up with Finland at second, Slovakia in third and U.S. in fourth. That pretty much covers it. The most likely scenario, going off of conventional wisdom (which is rarely a good idea), is the one in which Canada gains at least a point, Team USA wins in regulation and we have a nice clean 1-4 figured out in the Helsinki group that will definitely include Finland and one of Slovakia or France.
Here’s how the playoffs go in this year’s tournament:
In the Quarterfinals: The team that finishes first in the Helsinki Group plays the team that finishes fourth in that same group. The second place team meets the third place team. The higher seeded teams are designated as the home squad and has the benefit of the last line change.
The quarterfinals will be held Thursday and broadcast live in NBC Sports Network. I’ll have details in the USA-Switzerland recap regarding what time the U.S. will play and how things shook out.
The semifinal is where there is some crossover between the two groups. In the semis, the winner of the No. 1 vs. No. 4 game in the Helsinki Group meets the winner of the No. 2 vs. No. 3 QF from the Stockholm Group, and vice versa. The semis will be held in Helsinki Saturday and will air live on NBC Sports Network.
Phew. I think we got there. If your brain hurts, it’s normal and should subside slowly over the next 24 hours.
USA vs. Switzerland
Getting back to the matter at hand, Team USA has a date with a talented, but fading Swiss team.
After coming out strong with a 2-0 start, Switzerland kept things close with Canada, but ended up losing 3-2 and never recovered, dropping its next three games as well.
Switzerland didn’t want to be in this situation, but won’t simply quit. They’ll be happy to play spoiler and go out with a win and make Team USA’s road to a medal that much tougher.
The U.S., meanwhile, has things going pretty well. Team USA is tied for second in the tournament with 27 goals for. That kind of production is awfully rare for a U.S. squad at the Men’s World Championship.
Best of all, Team USA has gotten goals from 15 of its 21 skaters in the tournament, showing great depth of scoring. That depth makes the U.S. a legitimate contender for a medal, including that golden one. A regulation win allows the U.S. to head into the quarterfinal with momentum and at least second place in the Helsinki Group.
Even though there is a tough match-up waiting in the wings in the quarterfinals, the U.S. cannot overlook Swtizerland. That said, Team USA can set the tone for the medal round with another complete performance against a quality opponent in Switzerland.
Justin Faulk — The 20-year-old defenseman has three goals in the last two games for the U.S. and four overall, to lead the squad and all defensemen at the tournament. His seven points leave him trailing only former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. The youngster has shown poise and dependability. He is used in all situations and has done the job at both ends. He’s red hot right now. Look for that to continue against the Swiss.
Craig Smith — Though he practically hopped directly off the plane and into the lineup Friday, Smith has contributed immediately. He centered Team USA’s second line Sunday against Finland and provided some extra jump in the top six. He has pretty good speed and puck skills and can be deadly in all situations. Scott Gordon has a lot of faith in this guy and for good reason. After Smith’s breakout performance at last year’s Worlds, look him to play a huge role in the next few games for Team USA as he continues to adjust to the new team and the time difference.
Jack Johnson — It’s at that point of the tournament where the captain has to lead by example. Johnson has played loads of minutes and been mostly good in his featured role. He has set the tone with his physical (sometimes too physical) play and ability to contribute in all facets. The U.S. looked as competitive as ever in that game against Finland, and Johnson was certainly helping drive that competitiveness. He’s in his fifth World Championship and has to help guide this relatively inexperienced group in the toughest part of the tournament.
Mark Streit — The New York Islanders captain serves in that same role for Team Switzerland and is also the top defenseman for the national squad. In six games, Streit has posted two goals and two assists, while leading the team in time on ice (133:24). Though the tournament is essentially over for the Swiss, don’t expect a letdown from their captain. He’s an NHL and Olympic veteran that has a lot of respect among his countrymen.
Damien Brunner — Switzerland hasn’t scored a ton of goals in this tournament, but Brunner has a team-best three. He’s also been able to get a lot of pucks to the net with 29 shots on goal so far in the tournament. He posted 60 points for Zug in the Swiss league this past season, the highest point total of his pro career. He sees a lot of ice in all situations and is dangerous enough for the U.S. to have to keep close tabs on him.
Roman Josi — Fresh off a disappointing finish to his season in Nashville, the disappointment has continued for Josi, who suited up in Switzerland’s last two games. Despite the poor results, Josi obviously wants to make the trip worth it. After his first NHL campaign, Josi has a pretty bright future and likely will be a big part of Swiss national teams in the future. He’s a pretty good puck mover and mobile.
Team USA’s Last Roster Spot
Monday, Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post tweeted this little bit of info
Source tells me that #Caps Carlson was invited to join Team USA at World Championships. He declined because of injury that needs addressing.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikElBashir) May 14, 2012
The U.S. does have one open spot on its roster and Carlson likely would have fit in nicely, just in time for the medal-run. That said, he isn’t available and one has to wonder if the U.S. will send out any other invitations.
At this late stage of the tournament, the U.S. might not be able to significantly improve its team. With the exception of Craig Smith, this team has been completely intact since the tournament’s first game. Coming out of the Finland tilt, in which Team USA looked locked in, perhaps the status quo is best anyway. There’s nothing wrong with adding a guy if he’s better than what you currently have, but USA Hockey might not find it now.
IIHF.com’s power rankings have the U.S. in the No. 3 spot with a little dig at Patrick Kane’s off-ice shenanigans. I also giggled a little at France’s note.
Talk about dedicated hockey parents. Jim Slater’s mom and dad made the trip from Lapeer, Mich., to Helsinki to watch their boy represent his country.
Cam Atkinson is blogging for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ website.
And finally… A multi-functional, non-threatening knife vs. a slightly less functional, but significantly more threatening knife.