The U.S. National Junior Team comes into Sunday’s action as the top dog in Group A. With Canada’s shocking 5-4 shootout loss to the Czech Republic Saturday, Team USA sits atop the Group A standings as the only perfect team. They’ll meet Germany at 9 a.m. ET Sunday with the game airing live on NHL Network, with a simultaneous live stream on NHL.com for free in the U.S.
Germany has really struggled at the WJC so far, having lost both games by a combined score of 16-4. They’re almost assured a trip to the relegation round, but the U.S. has to remain focused on building on its previous two performances. With a New Year’s Eve date with Canada ahead, the U.S. can’t look past the Germans even if they are unlikely to pose much of a threat.
Team USA has had two wins, but a particularly messy performance in the second period against Slovakia revealed some things to improve on. That’s what games like the one against Germany offer. The pressure is off a little bit, but there are enough skill guys up front for the Germans to at least keep the Americans honest.
A regulation win over Germany solidifies the U.S. heading into that game against Canada in the driver’s seat to win the group. Coaches will be preaching improvement with each game and the U.S. will want to continue that trend against Germany.
Team USA Update
UPDATED: The U.S. was without Zach Stepan against the Slovakia. He will be back in the lineup, but Danny O’Regan is out against Germany. Team USA’s first-line center is listed as day-to-day.
With O’Regan out, Nic Kerdiles, who normally plays on the left wing on the top line will move over and play center. Stepan will take Kerdiles’ place on the left side.
The U.S. also has a decision to make about goaltending for the game against Germany. Head coach Don Lucia may want to rest Jon Gillies since he saw a lot of pucks Saturday. The back-to-back games and the fact that Germany has had a hard time in this tournament may make this an ideal time to give Anthony Stolarz a chance and see what he’s got in the event they need him later for some reason.
The other theory is that you want to ride the hot hand and let Gillies keep rolling. He made some huge saves in that game against Slovakia, but wasn’t as sharp as he looked against the Czech Republic. Even if you give Gillies the start, there’s probably not much reason for him to play the whole game assuming the U.S. gets up big on Germany early.
UPDATE: Stolarz will start.
The U.S. really hasn’t had any players that have stood out as struggling in this tournament through three games. That allows Don Lucia to roll all four lines regularly and get all seven defensemen invovled. Each player has had some nice moments in this tournament. That has to give the head coach a lot of confidence with how he utilizes his lineup. The game against Germany only offers more reps for players to continue to familiarize with linemates and gain more of a rhythm.
You always hear the cliche about not overlooking the inferior opponent. The U.S. should win this game and for some players, it may be a difficult one to get up for. That said, Team USA really needs to focus on keeping the same level of intensity throughout the tournament. You don’t want to let that competitiveness drop or develop bad habits. With Canada as the next opponent, it’s even more important for the U.S. to keep the same level of play they brought to games against Slovakia and the Czech Republic. That will carry over throughout the tournament.
The Germans have not been good in the tournament. The goaltending has been poor and the defense has been overmatched. That said, Germany has had strong starts to games where they were able to keep up with Canada and Slovakia. The Germans actually were giving Canada an honest game before dropping a 7-2 decision.
There are some really nice players on this team as well. Leon Draisaitl could be a top 15 pick in the NHL Draft this year and is a highly-skilled, strong forward who will match-up well against other American forwards. Dominik Kahun is leading the team with three points including two goals. He has been a nice complimentary player to Draisaitl so far. Janik Moser is another player to watch for Germany.
One guy that U.S. fans might be familiar with beyond the highly-touted Draisaitl is Frederik Tiffels. He played for the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Fargo Force in the USHL and will soon suit up for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the league. He is committed to attend Western Michigan University next fall. Tiffels is a skilled player that can make a few things happen on the ice.
It’s unclear who the Germans will start in net, but it is likely to be Marvin Cupper. He didn’t play well against Slovakia, but is a very capable netminder. If he gets hot, he’ll be tough to beat. The U.S. will have to try and give him a lot of work early and wear him down with the number of shots they can put on goal.
Here’s a look at the highlights from Germany’s 7-2 loss to Canada in the tournament opener:
The Germans have gotten off to pretty energetic starts to their games, but once they start trailing, they lose their will a little bit. They also tend not to have the depth to recover when in a tailspin. The U.S. will want to be the stronger team out the gate and through the full 60 and should be.
Official U.S. Lineup vs. Germany
26 Stepan – 17 Kerdiles – 11 Barber
19 Erne – 15 Eichel – 21 Hartman
23 Matteau – 9 Copp – 22 Fasching
14 DiPauli – 25 Shore – 13 Hinostroza
2 Skjei – 28 Carrick
4 Butcher – 16 Santini
3 McCoshen – 7 Grzelcyk
Not Dressed: 35 Demko, 10 O’Regan
Three Keys for Team USA vs. Germany
Compete Throughout — It’s hard for teams to get up when playing a weaker opponent, but the U.S. doesn’t have a choice. With their toughest test coming Tuesday against Canada, the U.S. can’t afford to have a letdown in effort against Germany. Team USA may need to look for the depth of its lineup to get activated in this game and build some confidence. That may help boost the energy level as more players try to get on the scoresheet.
Focus on Discipline — The U.S. took some costly and undisciplined penalties against Slovakia and that will hurt more as the tournament progresses. The U.S. has a good PK, but you don’t want them to get overworked. Team USA wants to play a physical game in this tournament, but they have to be smart. They were smarter in the opening game, but took six minor penalties on Saturday against Slovakia. With the skill level the U.S. possesses and the overwhelming speed advantage against Germany, careless penalties should be fairly easy to avoid.
Don’t Develop Bad Habits — These games against the weaker teams in the group can become slop festivals pretty quickly, especially when the stronger team takes an early lead. Again, this is with the Canada game in mind. Team USA can’t change the way it plays, they can only hope to improve on how they’ve done so far. With so much to work on already, there’s not much room for bad habits and poor choices to creep into their game. The U.S. should focus on puck management in this game and taking control with their speed. If they can continue to do that, they’re going to be in great shape throughout the event.
– USA Hockey’s official game notes for today’s contest (PDF via USAHockey.com)
– Team USA’s scoring leaders through two games. Six players tied for the team lead with three points. (PDF via IIHF.com)
– U.S. players had nothing but praise for Jon Gillies after the win over Slovakia. It’s clear the team has a lot of faith in their No. 1 goalie. (USAHockey.com)
– Martin Reway and David Griger of Slovakia lead the tournament after three days with six points apiece. Full list here (PDF via IIHF.com)
– Canada was stunned by the Czech Republic 5-4 in a shootout. Dominik Simon sealed CZE’s first win over Canada at the WJC since 1993 (when it was Czechoslovakia still) with a terrific move in the shootout. (CBSSports.com)
– Sweden beat Nordic rivals Finland 4-2. Among Sweden’s goals, an incredible goal on the power play in which all five players on the ice touched the puck before it hit the back of the net. (GIF via Reddit)
– Michal Plutnar of the Czech Republic may have to answer to the IIHF for knocking over a linesman in the game against Canada. It looked pretty bad, but he only got two minutes for roughing as the officials felt his push was unintentional. (CBSSports.com)
Don’t forget, you can catch a full recap of Team USA’s game against Germany shortly after the game is complete right here on United States of Hockey. Here are the recaps from the previous two contests: