There weren’t many opportunities for this edition of the U.S. National Junior Team to come together in a live game situation. With just two pre-tournament games, one of which was a sorely needed evaluation game for players that were on the bubble for Team USA, Saturday morning’s contest is an important chemistry-building game.
Team USA will meet Finland at 6 a.m. ET live on NHL Network in its last game in Helsinki. After it’s over, the U.S. will announce its final roster for the 2013 World Junior Championship. It is highly likely the players scratched in Saturday’s game are the ones who will be sent home, unless there’s still any doubts about certain guys.
Head Coach Phil Housley has already said he will dress all of the players that were scratched for the game against Sweden on Saturday. Also, unlike the Sweden game in which the U.S. only dressed 20 players, I’d anticipate the U.S. going with a full 22 against the Finns.
Coming up after the jump, a look at what to watch for during Saturday’s final pre-tournament tilt.
Pay special attention to the lineup for Team USA in this game. Everything from forward lines to D pairings should be very close to what the U.S. staff will hope to go with in the tournament.
It sounds as though the line of Johnny Gaudreau, J.T. Miller and Rocco Grimaldi, which apparently worked very well in the practices in New York, will get some good time together after sitting out the Thursday game. This line has potential to be deadly with the speed and skill on both wings, good size down the middle with Miller and some built in chemistry. Grimaldi and Miller played together at the NTDP and after speaking with Gaudreau the other day, he has found it easy to play with Grimaldi in particular. This should be an entertaining trio if it stays together.
The other line that looks like it’s set in stone is Blake Pietila, Cole Bardreau and Ryan Hartman. That looks like Team USA’s energy line and the three looked really solid together.
Other than that, things could continue to get shuffled as Team USA tries to find which guys give them the right mix.
The D pairings should be intriguing as well as this should closely mirror the WJC pairings. Those are a little more interchangeable, but it will be good to note which guys get the most consistent ice together.
I’d imagine John Gibson will play the whole game to get the reps in before the tournament, which segues nicely into…
The big goaltender is going to be a huge key to Team USA’s success in the tournament. Getting Gibson a solid start before the tournament is likely the order for Saturday. Maybe he’ll play the full 60, maybe he won’t, but either way he should get some work in.
Gibson has only had two starts since getting briefly sidelined with a hip injury. His first start back was solid, but the next one was a clunker. Getting his bearings with a new team and adjusting to the big ice surface, which can be tough for some goalies, will be important.
Finland is the team Gibson saw in his one game of action at last year’s WJC, so he should know what to expect in this game. I wouldn’t anticipate Gibson’s mind wandering too far to last year’s third-period breakdown from last year. The stakes are much lower and Gibson will probably just be focused on getting his work in.
Finland has a lot of skill up front, which will provide a good test for Gibson.
It was really hard to get a good gauge for the special teams Team USA was using against Sweden Thursday. Without the guys that were scratched, all of which figure to factor into special teams in some way, there was no real way to tell who will make up Team USA’s top special teams units.
With that in mind, Saturday should provide a much better look of who will play where. Team USA really opened things up on the power play at times, but showed the inconsistency of unfamiliar teammates. This game will be a necessary point for fine tuning and getting that familiarity and chemistry going.
The PK was really good for the U.S. against Sweden for the most part, so the Finland game will be more of an opportunity to keep that going and perhaps get a few new guys some looks in that role.
If the game is called at all like the Sweden-USA game was on Saturday, expect special teams to get a real workout.
It’s pretty much already been said, but to reiterate, I think (emphasis on think) that the guys that sit out will be the guys getting sent home. There’s just not enough time to get this team clicking, so it would appear getting the desired full lineup on the ice for one full game before it matters would be important.
With the (probably) final roster on the ice, you should be able to get a really strong idea of how the U.S. will play. If Thursday is any indication, Team USA is going to play the game at an extremely high pace. They’ll use the width of the ice to their advantage and be dangerous in transition.
Expect the D to get involved in the play an awful lot. It seems like a lot of those guys had the green light to get involved offensively. Two defensemen ended up scoring goals even.
The one thing the Sweden game lacked that the Finland game probably won’t is the physicality. Team USA never established much of a physical presence, but Finland will offer Team USA a more physical opponent. The U.S. has good size and strength up front, so they should certainly work on using it more.
The team on the other end of the ice is a good one. Finland beat Canada 3-2 in its first exhibition game. While you can’t get too wrapped up in an exhibition result, Finland was the better team for a lot of that game.
There is a tremendous amount of skill up front with guys like Aleksander Barkov (a potential top-five pick this year) and first-roudners Teuvo Teravainen and Joel Armia. On the back end is projected first-rounder Rasmus Ristolainen and a host of other gifted puck movers.
Finland has a real shot at winning Group A,and will certainly make it to the playoff round. The U.S. could see the Finns potentially in the crossovers.
This should be a great final test before the U.S. heads to Russia for the big dance.
I’m traveling today, so content and Twitter will be light today, but I’ll have a full recap after Saturday’s early-morning contest and will try to provide in-game analysis on Twitter as well. Plenty more WJC coverage to come before we break for the holidays.
Also, if you missed it, here are the TSN highlights from Team USA’s 3-2 win over Sweden.