The U.S. came into Monday’s game with their backs against the wall and in a must-win game against Slovakia, the U.S. won emphatically. Scoring eight goals through the first 40 minutes, Team USA ended up finishing off Slovakia 9-3 to advance to the tournament quarterfinals against a yet-to-be-determined opponent (likely the Czech Republic).
The U.S. had the offensive game it lacked against Canada and Russia, proving it could get to the net and put pressure on opposing goalies in tight. It wasn’t a perfect effort by any means, but with a trip to the medal round on the line, Team USA seized the opportunity and blew out a pretty solid, but tired opponent.
The win should also build some confidence for Team USA coming off those games where the offense couldn’t get a thing going. The USA staff juggled lines and it ended up paying off as the forwards started generating chances with consistency and were able to get pucks and bodies to the net. The defense also continued its staggering offensive production with three goals coming from the blue line corps as well.
Coming up after the jump, a full breakdown of Team USA’s big win, with stats, general thoughts and copious player notes.
Team USA Scoring Summary, Stats
Goals: John Gaudreau (2), Vince Trocheck (2), Cole Bardreau, Jake McCabe, Mike Reilly, Jacob Trouba, Alex Galchenyuk (SVK Goals: Matis (2), R. Mraz)
Assists: Jim Vesey (3), J.T. Miller (2), Connor Murphy, Sean Kuraly, John Gaudreau, Shayne Gostisbehere, Seth Jones, Mario Lucia, Jake McCabe, Tyler Biggs, Vince Trocheck, Ryan Hartman, John Gibson
Saves/GA: John Gibson – 26/3
Other Stats of Note…
— 17 of Team USA’s 20 players that actually played today had at least one point.
— Team USA went 4-for-9 on the power play today and held Slovakia to 1-for-7 on their PP. The only goal came on a five-minute major.
— Team USA out-shot Slovakia 40-29.
— J.T. Miller won 14 of his 18 faceoffs today (77.8%), Cole Bardreau won 12 of 17 (70.6%)
— With a goal and assist today, Alex Galchenyuk extended his team point lead to seven. He is second overall in the tournament in total points as well.
— Jacob Trouba has scored a goal in each of Team USA’s four games and leads all defensemen with four goals in the tournament. He is tied for the tournament lead overall with Markus Granlund and Ryan Strome.
Here’s the game’s official scoresheet. (IIHF)
Team USA’s total stats through four games. (IIHF)
— Team USA did what it had to do offensively by dominating the middle of the ice and being the better team at the font of the net. The U.S. forwards were finding ways to get behind the defense and the passing was much crisper today. The U.S. didn’t force as much and simply took what they were given. They were given a lot.
— Throwing Jimmy Vesey up with John Gaudreau and J.T. Miller was not an obvious move to make, but it worked perfectly. Vesey was able to get going offensively playing on his off wing and was Team USA’s best player in the first period. That line wasn’t working all tournament and the former 13th forward ended up being a difference maker. Riley Barber also saw some time with that line. Here’s a look at Vesey’s best play of the game, showing his patience, vision and delivering a really, really pretty pass to Jake McCabe.
— Rocco Grimaldi dressed, but did not play a single shift all game. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, he was benched for selfish play. Grimaldi is not known as a selfish player, but he played like one against Canada, so the move maybe sends a message. Vince Trocheck replaced him on the power-play and was more effective. Vesey as mentioned played with the line Grimaldi had been on and was more effective. As long as Grimaldi takes this message and uses it to get back to what makes him so good, he’ll be back on the ice for the quarterfinals, but it might be as the 13th forward.
— One of the worst plays of the day came when Shayne Gostisbehere was given a five minute major and a game misconduct for what looked like a spear to a Slovakian players’ cup area (it was called a slashing major). It was retaliatory after Gostisbehere was badly slew-footed just seconds prior by the same player. Gostisbehere admitted to reporters after he was tossed that it was stupid on his part, and you can’t argue with that. Lucky for him, Slovakia only scored once on the major penalty, but that could have been bad for Team USA. I wouldn’t expect any supplementary discipline based on the referee making the right call to toss him, but you can’t make mistakes like that and it could cost Gostisbehere playing time from the USA staff. Here’s the penalty.
— Team USA in general took too many penalties, which is an area of concern. The U.S. took six minor penalties and the major/game misconduct for Gostisbehere leading to 37 minutes in penalties. That can’t happen again in the tournament as every mistake seems to hurt more in the medal round.
— The U.S. power play was clicking much better against Slovakia. Four different players scored with the man advantage. Team USA got two goals from each unit. Moving Trocheck with Gaudreau and Miller was huge for that group. They were deadly almost every time out it seemed. Alex Galchenyuk has been good on the PP as well, with both points coming with the man advantage including his slick one-time snapper for the ninth U.S. goal. Jacob Trouba has also been trouble for opponents on the power play as three of his four goals have come via the PP.
— Defensively, things worked really well for the U.S. The new top pairing of Jake McCabe and Seth Jones clicks a lot better than when Jones was with Mike Reilly. Both McCabe and Jones have enough offense to contribute and jump into plays, but they have been dynamite in their own zone. Gostisbehere and Trouba also worked well before Gostisbehere was tossed and Trouba was able to float a bit among pairs. Patrick Sieloff had good effective shifts. Mike Reilly and Connor Murphy got burned on the first goal against, but otherwise were pretty effective at both ends of the ice.
— The U.S. played mostly smart with the physical game, playing the body carefully, but effectively. This tournament hasn’t had a ton of physicality because of the bigger ice and how tightly it’s been called.
Jimmy Vesey — Rocco Grimaldi’s loss was Vesey’s gain and he made the most of it today. With three assists in the first period, Vesey showed that he could play a top-six role if given the opportunity. Playing on his off wing, he was creative with the puck, patient with his decisions and effective in all zones. He somewhat dwindled as the game went on and kind of faded to the background a bit, but he guaranteed himself more ice time with such a terrific start. To think he almost didn’t make this team… Good thing they brought him.
Jacob Trouba — When this WJC is over, Trouba may end up the directorate award winner as the tournament’s best defenseman. He made a few mistakes today, but scored his fourth goal of the tournament and was once again effective in all zones. He’s been Team USA’s most physical player, but has played it mostly smart. His offense helps, but his D-zone play really has been a standout area for him. If you were to pick an MVP for the U.S., it’d be tough deciding between John Gibson and Jacob Trouba.
Jake McCabe — How good as Team USA’s captain been? Very. He had two points today and has really been excellent in his own zone for pretty much the whole tournament. McCabe’s battles along the boards and in the corners have made a real difference for the U.S. in their own zone. He has been consistently physical and has been effective when he jumps into the play. His goal today was an absolutely terrific finish after the perfect pass from Vesey.
Cole Bardreau — Named Team USA’s player of the game today, Bardreau scored the game’s first goal, a pretty backhander, and was able to affect the game with his speed. He set the tone for the U.S. early and kept his gritty play up to the final buzzer. He has done a good job of pestering opponents and getting the puck up ice for numerous scoring chances. He was finally rewarded for what has been an overall tremendous tournament for the undersized center.
Johnny Gaudreau — There he is. With two goals today, Gaudreau got himself back on track after what has been a sluggish, but also snake-bitten start. His second goal was an absolute beauty, toe dragging a defenseman before going to the backhand in what looked eerily similar to his national-championship icing goal last year in Tampa for Boston College. His first goal was actually in tight, in an area Gaudreau had struggled to get to for much of the tournament. It also came on the backhand and was a result of good finish and following through on his play. He looked like the Gaudreau we expected to see before the tournament today.
J.T. Miller — Miller also had his best game yet, registering two assists and absolutely dominating the faceoff dot. This was the game he needed to have heading into the medal round. He’s under-performed expectations, but made a lot of headway today with the way he got involved offensively. He clicked better on the power play and got back to getting pucks to the net and utilizing his speed instead of relying on his skill. That was J.T. Miller’s game as you expect it to be.
Vince Trocheck — With two goals, Trocheck got the spark he needed as well. He’s had very few good chances in the tournament, so he made the most of added PP time today. He and Gaudreau seemed to click with the man advantage and both were doing a good job of finding each other in space. When with his regular line with Tyler Biggs and Mario Lucia, Trocheck was energetic and playing soundly at both ends. That line got a lot of ice in the first two period and played very well in what they were given. He and Tyler Biggs are starting to click a little better.
Seth Jones — Really it was one bad period against Canada that had everyone on Jones’s back. He made a few questionable decisions today, but otherwise looked fantastic. He was getting opportunities offensively and limiting Slovakia defensively. He has new life with Jake McCabe and that pairing should see major, major minutes in the medal round.
Alex Galchenyuk — Here’s the funny thing about Galchenyuk today… He wasn’t very good in this game, at least not compared to other games. He still had two points. When you can still produce and not have your best game, that’s pretty good, right? Galchenyuk wasn’t getting a lot of chances today and had trouble generating offense at a high level, but he had a great finish on the ninth goal and made the pass that led to Trouba’s eventual tap-in. He needs to be better in the medal round, but there’s no reason to think he can’t be.
John Gibson — Today wasn’t a real challenge for Gibson, but he held his ground pretty well and made a few more of those big saves he’s been prone to making in this tournament. None of Slovakia’s goals were squeakers really. He has a 1.93 GAA and .936 save percentage so far, which is great for this point in the tournament. He’ll need to be as good as he has been in the medal round to keep Team USA’s gold chances alive.
Mike Reilly — Reilly got involved offensively and was buzzing a bit all game. He has such terrific offensive skills, but there’s still been questionable play in his own zone. That said, moving Reilly off the top pairing and with Connor Murphy has been a positive move. It takes some pressure off Reilly and while his ice time goes down as a result, he is put in better positions to have success. His goal today pretty much broke Slovakia’s back in the first period and stood up as the game-winner.
Coming up later today, Team USA’s quarterfinal opponent will be revealed, with some quick thoughts heading into the New Year’s Day off-day.