Too much can be made of history in a tournament where the players change almost every year, but the U.S. National Junior Team got a big monkey off USA Hockey’s back with a 3-2 win over Russia. The preliminary-round victory elevated the U.S. to a 3-0-0-0 record and ended a five-game losing streak to Russia that dates back to 2008.
There are so many different things that made this one of the better U.S. victories in recent years at the WJC, but chief among them was the fact that Team USA got contributions from everywhere. On top of that, they were playing a team on a full day’s rest after having to play a game of their own the night before. Tournament schedulers try to avoid that whenever they can, but the U.S. took the challenge head on and put forth their best overall game of the tournament so far.
Goals from Clayton Keller, Colin White and Troy Terry in front of a superb effort by goalie Tyler Parsons propelled the U.S. to the win.
They’ll get a day off before what should be a huge game against rival Canada on New Year’s Eve. Assuming Canada beats Latvia (they will, of course), that Saturday afternoon tilt will be for first place in Group B. Team USA can finish no lower than second place.
So let’s take a deeper look at Team USA’s big 3-2 win over Russia with five key takeaways, stats, highlights and standout performers:
1. USA was able to roll four lines the entire game
One of the key things about the way this U.S. team was built was that they wanted to have a team that could play everybody up front and expect each line to contribute. That doesn’t always happen, but it is happening here.
Team USA rolled all four lines throughout the game, with their first and fourth lines looking like their best all game long. That was a huge factor in overcoming playing an afternoon game right after playing the night before. The ability to keep the bench long and expect forwards to play within the team’s style kept everyone fresher and made it easier to control the game.
While the first line was outstanding, Team USA’s fourth line was so good throughout the game. They hemmed Russia into their own zone multiple times, dominated on the forecheck, won board battles and even scored a really nice goal — the one that proved to be the game-winner. Troy Terry is the top offensive performer on that line, but Tanner Laczynski has been thriving as the fourth-line center and Erik Foley has been one of USA’s most energetic forwards throughout the tournament (though he did take a poor penalty in the third).
Meanwhile, Colin White and Clayton Keller continue to perform at such a high level on the top line. Both have been USA’s offensive leaders and each scored a goal in this one, with Keller’s making the highlight reels (see below).
Only two of Team USA’s forwards ended up with TOI figures below 10 minutes. Aside from the guys that played on the PK and PP, the lines were getting pretty regular shifts and all of them are difficult to contain at this point.
2. Team USA owned the boards in this game
One area that this U.S. team excelled at was winning puck battles. They were so good along the walls and that allowed them to get sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Russia always forces teams to chip in as opposed to carry in, but Team USA was able to mitigate that with speed. When they had room, they took it in, when they didn’t, they won races to the chipped pucks with few exceptions.
Team USA played at such a high rate of speed and made a lot of nice precision plays, but when they had to grind, they did it incredibly well. They also managed to win a lot of puck battles in their own zone, with defensemen making really smart reads before getting pucks up ice for pretty clean exits on the regular.
Russia makes you work for everything and they did that to the Americans tonight, but Team USA had the speed and effort level to earn the win.
3. Special teams remains one area that needs a little improvement
The U.S. did score a power-play goal in this game, with Colin White taking advantage of a deflected shot while unattended. Team USA had five advantages in the game, however, and they probably would have liked to get more chances out of it. They also gave up a pretty fluky shorthanded goal.
The PK was much better in this game compared to Slovakia and even better, the U.S. only took three penalties in the game. That said, Russia got a power play goal out of it. They’ll take the improvement over the Slovakia game, but there is just a little more fine-tuning to do before Canada gets their opportunities.
Overall, Team USA was better on special teams against Russia. That’s one area that you should expect to be better in with each passing game as chemistry and familiarity builds.
4. USA’s defense didn’t flinch
The area that I thought would give the U.S. the most trouble against Russia was the pace of their forwards. Team USA’s defense had been largely unchallenged in the tournament until today so it was unclear with how they’d deal with pressure. They passed with flying colors and oftentimes stifled any chance for Russia to get their offensive game going.
There was a real lack of zone time for Russia, too, which says a lot about how USA plays. While the forwards helped a great deal in that department, the blueliners had a lot to do with forcing turnovers and breaking up plays before getting pucks out pretty quick.
Aside from one hiccup early in the game, which ended in the shorthanded goal, the blueliners were really responsible and didn’t throw pucks away too much. They picked their spots on when to push up the ice, made good reads and they distributed the puck with care.
Russia thrives on the other team making mistakes. Team USA just didn’t make that many.
5. How good was the goaltending in this game?
Tyler Parsons and Ilya Samsonov enhanced the game with their tremendous goaltending. The two netminders had a pretty heavy workload, but they were giving their teams every chance to win.
Samsonov is incredibly aggressive, which cost him on USA’s first goal, but boy was he doing a good job of challenging USA’s shooters. He ended the game with 34 saves and even stopped a penalty shot when the U.S. could have essentially iced the win. He’s a fun goalie to watch.
Meanwhile, Parsons was every bit as good as Samsonov, making some incredible saves. The first goal was basically a freak bounce and the second was a power-play deflection. Everything else was contained extremely well by the London Knights goalie. He finished the game with 25 saves and I thought he was Team USA’s best player in the third period.
Stats of note:
- Luke Kunin, a forward, was Team USA’s TOI leader with 21:51. He plays on the power play, penalty kill and centers USA’s second line. More on him shortly.
- USA out-shot Russia 37-27, with a first-period edge of 18-6. They controlled play for most of the game and kept Samsonov busy.
- Colin White now has a goal in each of Team USA’s three games. Clayton Keller had two points against Russia to take over the U.S. scoring lead with five (2g-3a) through three games. White and Troy Terry are tied for second on the team with four each.
- Clayton Keller led Team USA with six shots on goal, while Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway each had five. Kunin and Greenway are tied for the U.S. lead with 15 shots apiece through three games.
Players of Note:
Luke Kunin (Wisconsin, MIN): Team USA’s captain had his best game of the tournament in a lot of different ways, but it was his two-way skills that stood out. If he could just get some of his shots to drop, his offensive numbers would look better. That said, he’s been a steady presence on the PK, has played on the power play and often gets a lot of tough matchups at even strength. Team USA trusts him to do just about anything. The U.S. had to gut this one out and Kunin was leading the way in that department.
Clayton Keller (Boston U, ARI): What’s left to say that hasn’t already been said? Keller has been a continual offensive threat and it shows in the numbers. His brilliant move on the goal to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead froze a defenseman and the goalie, giving him the entire net to shoot at. The creativity is off the charts. I noticed that he forced things a little more in this game, but overall, I love that his occasional miscues come in the name of making plays. Keller has just been awesome in this tournament so far.
Tyler Parsons (London, CGY): I thought this game solidified Parsons as the No. 1 if he wasn’t already. He was so steady between the pipes and didn’t try to do too much, which is something that can happen with him from time to time. He made some clutch saves late in the game and had to deal with some really wacky bounces. Parsons just didn’t leave a lot to chance out there and played a style that could give his team the utmost confidence in him. Russia can be so tricky because they have so many elite shooters, but Parsons was up to the challenge in a big, big way.
Troy Terry (Denver, ANA): The engine that drives the fourth line offensively, Terry scored the crucial third goal on a really clever deflection. He made a lot of plays and was a big part of why the fourth line kept the puck in Russia’s zone so often. This was by far his best game of the tournament. He was named USA’s Player of the Game.
Casey Fitzgerald (Boston College, BUF): This might have been one of the best games I’ve personally seen Fitzgerald play. I can’t say I’ve seen him a ton, but probably a dozen or so times in the last year-plus, often on TV. He was really sharp with all of his decisions and made some really confident plays. There were at least two key defensive stops in the third period. The one thing I’d like to see him improve on is his shot selection at the blue line as he hits a lot of shin pads out there. That said, he gave Team USA his best performance in a game they needed him to be really strong in 19:01 of ice time.
Charlie McAvoy (Boston U, BOS): McAvoy had a little bit of an up and down game, but he was sensational in the third period. He played 8:23 in the final frame and may have saved a goal with one of his defensive stops late in the period. McAvoy has had a few struggles with the pace at times in this tournament, but you can see how smart he is with how he positions himself and how he is able to contain things in the defensive zone. It wasn’t perfect, but when USA needed him most, he was great.
Colin White (Boston College, OTT): Another game, another goal for Colin White. He played a ton of minutes in this game and gives the U.S. a high-end two-way center who can beat teams with speed. His forechecking was outstanding and he just keeps putting up points.
Caleb Jones (Portland, EDM): Every single game, Jones has looked better. He was really good against Slovakia, but even better against Russia. His skating has been superb and I like the way he uses his feet to get himself out of trouble. His closing speed is really good and his decisions with the puck have gotten better with each game. Jones is getting over 20 minutes a game and giving the U.S. good minutes when he’s out there.
Erik Foley (Providence, WPG): Save for one really poorly-timed penalty (and an unnecessary one at that) in the third period, I thought Foley had his best game of the tournament. He is one of the USA’s best forecheckers and was winning battles all over the ice. He set up Terry’s game-winner and I thought his speed and physicality made him a factor all game.
Tanner Laczynski (Ohio State, PHI): I wanted to make sure I got the entire fourth line in here because they had a heck of a game. Laczynski was dominant at the dot again, winning six of his eight faceoffs and he was just as good as his linemates at pressuring Russia in the offensive zone. At tournaments like these, you need players to accept roles. Laczynski is the leading scorer for Ohio State and plays in all situations. He’s in a much more limited role with Team USA and he’s played his role beautifully so far.
Team USA’s scoring leaders through 3 GP
Clayton Keller – 2-3–5
Colin White – 3-1–4
Troy Terry – 2-2–4
Tage Thompson – 2-1–3
Casey Fitzgerald – 0-3–3
Top goalie: Tyler Parsons – 2-0-0, .923 SV%, 1.50 GAA