The U.S. Men’s National Team overcame a lackluster start to earn a 5-2 win over Switzerland and clinch second place in the Helsinki Group, setting up a quarterfinal rematch with Finland.
The U.S., which finished with a 4-2-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record, will take on the defending champ and tournament co-host Thursday at 11:30 a.m. EDT. The game will air live on the NBC Sports Network.
Against the Swiss, Team USA got better as the game went on and made sure the third period was its best period. As a result, the U.S. dominated down the stretch and finished the preliminary round on an extremely high note.
The U.S. has struggled a bit against teams that hadn’t been having a great tournament. The loss to Slovakia, going to overtime against Kazakhstan and the close game against Belarus all started flashing before Team USA’s eyes as it fell behind early in the second period.
After regrouping, the U.S. scored three unanswered goals to put the game out of reach and show just how good they can be.
Coming up after the jump, more notes on Team USA’s 5-2 win over Switzerland, the U.S. player of the game and a quick look at the quarterfinal match-ups for the World Championship.
Despite several slow starts in the preliminary round, the U.S. always seemed to heat up at the right times. No one expected this team to average 4.6 goals-per-game, but with balanced production through its forward lines and plenty of offensive support from the defensemen, this American club defied the odds.
When this tournament is over, it is likely this American squad will go down as one of the highest scoring teams in the history of this event for USA Hockey. That’s pretty incredible.
Seventeen of the 21 skaters on this roster have scored a goal in this tournament. That’s also incredible. Goals are hard to come by in these types of tournaments and it’s easy for teams to fall into slumps. The U.S. really hasn’t over an extended period yet.
What Team USA will have to work on is getting off to a quicker start. The lack of intensity at the outset of the Switzerland game was fairly evident and it showed in the scoreline. That can’t happen against a motivated Finnish team Thursday. When the U.S. is pushing the pace with its terrific team speed and dialing up the physical game, it becomes an incredibly tough team to beat.
The U.S. also seems to have shored things up defensively. The D corps is not mistake free, but the offensive pressure out of Team USA makes that a non-issue. When the forecheck is going and D are doing a good job of holding the zone, the U.S. becomes a dangerous possession team. The high-end puck-movers on the back end have been pretty special when they’re on. That was plainly evident Tuesday as three of Team USA’s five goals came off the sticks of defensemen.
Jimmy Howard has also looked better with each game. He had some pretty ugly numbers early, but has since brought his goals-against average down to a respectable 2.32 and save percentage up to .912. In most of his starts, Howard has given his team every chance to win.
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster with this team, but six out of seven times, they’ve found a way to win. Sometimes that’s all it takes in the medal round. As long as you do enough, you advance. Team USA has been doing enough and occasionally more than enough to win. As long is it maintains that kind of play in the medal round, the U.S. should go in with confidence.
This U.S. National Team became the first American squad to win six games at the World Championship since 1990 and more impressively was the first U.S. squad to win six of its first seven games at the World Championship since 1939.
Making history along the way certainly won’t hurt that rising confidence level.
None of that will matter once the quarterfinals start, however. The tournament might as well start over as the stakes get higher and the margin for error thinner. Despite facing an opponent it beat 5-0, Team USA will have to be ready for a completely different Finnish outfit Thursday.
We’ll have a full preview Wednesday evening for the big quarterfinal match-up.
U.S. Player of the Game
The man who got the nod from the IIHF as player of the game gets the nod here as well, narrowly edging out Anaheim teammate Cam Fowler, who I thought had his best game of the tournament by far, and Paul Stastny who had a three-point output against the Swiss.
Ryan posted a goal and an assist and has rewarded head coach Scott Gordon for his line shuffling. Gordon bumped Ryan off of the star-studded line with Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny to a spot with NHL rookie Craig Smith and Kyle Okposo. Meanwhile, Ryan remained on the top PP unit with his former full-time linemates.
Ryan scored Team USA’s first goal of the game as a power-play expired thanks to a creative feed from Pacioretty and showed the touch that has made him a consistent 30-goal man in the NHL.
The Anaheim sniper now has four goals (tied for first on the squad) and two assists. With him going like he has been, the U.S. have a go-to scorer to rely on.
With the quarterfinal match-ups set, NBC Sports Network is providing unprecedented coverage, airing all four of them. Here’s the schedule.
Canada vs. Slovakia — 6 a.m. EDT
Russia vs. Norway — 8:30 a.m. EDT
USA vs. Finland — 11:30 a.m. EDT
Sweden vs. Czech Republic — 2 p.m. EDT
I’ll have a quick look at each of the quarterfinal match-ups in the USA-Finland preview as well.
Here’s the official IIHF game sheet from Tuesday’s game.
Max Pacioretty has posted at least one point in every game at the tournament and extended his team lead to 12 points including a team-best 10 assists. Paul Stastny had a goal and two assists today to run his point total to nine (3g-6a), good for second on the squad. Bobby Ryan and Justin Faulk are tied for the team lead with four goals each. Here’s a look at Team USA’s full statistical breakdown.
Stay tuned for the USA-Finland preview, with an in-depth look at both squads as well as a retrospective on Team USA’s track record in the quarterfinals.