WJC 2013: U.S. team speed is pivotal against Canada
In a tournament-opening 8-0 win over the Germans on Thursday, we saw Team USA's speed and transition game overwhelm an undermanned team.
The next day against Russia, we saw them meet their match.
U.S. head coach Phil Housley liked a lot of what he saw in the Germany game but he also knew his team would need to find another gear for its second game. The Russians didn't come out with the quick right hook many thought they would, but once the game got settled, they were locked in an enthralling hockey chess match with the Americans.
Did Team USA play well enough to win the game? Those arguments are always hard to settle, simply because they lost the game. But there were enough indications in a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Russia that proved the Americans have what it takes to make it out of their group and into the medal round -- provided they continue to play their style.
And that style has been a quick transition, north-to-south brand of hockey seemingly tailor-made for a talented group of defensemen and 13 fleet-footed forwards that love to play off the rush.
Looking ahead to tomorrow morning's game against Canada (4:30 a.m. ET, live on NHL Network), combating skill and speed with skill and speed is probably the best course of action for the U.S. side. Housley isn't going to alter his approach for one preliminary round game -- regardless of its significance -- and quite frankly, the Americans have a team that's deep enough to fight fire with fire against Canada.
Following a three-game suspension to Blue Jackets prospect Boone Jenner in pre-tournament action and a one-game suspension to JC Lipon yesterday, Canada will be two forwards short for tomorrow's game and head coach Steve Spott is likely to give that ice time to his top players, namely Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome and others.
There's no question the Canadians can score; they've lit the lamp 15 times in the first two games of this World Junior, but they've also come under scrutiny for an early-game struggle against Slovakia and an ugly pre-tourney loss to Finland in Helsinki.
Goaltending has been a hot topic for Canada, as well: there are some who believe Jordan Binnington (Owen Sound Attack) should get a shot between the pipes instead of Malcolm Subban, who has yielded six goals in the first two games of the tournament.
But regardless of who is in goal and who is in/out of the Canadian lineup, the Americans know they have a formidable and hungry opponent awaiting them.
"It was good to have a day off and get some rest to be ready for Canada," Housley told USAHockey.com. "It's going to be a great game...all in all, we'll be ready."
And if there's been one thing to key on for the U.S., it's that they have been ready in each of their first two games. Sean Kuraly scored the opening goal against Germany just 19 seconds into the first period, and before the Germans had even touched the puck.
Johnny Gaudreau's missed opportunity at the side of the net against Russia mere minutes into the first period was the highlight of another quality start for the Americans, and they're going to need another one tomorrow morning.
These are the games that Seth Jones, Mike Reilly, Shayne Gostisbehere and the rest of the Team USA defense are built for, and a big reason why they're part of the group in Ufa: smooth breakouts from the defensive zone, a keen awareness to join the rush and be the "second wave" of the attack, and top-end skating that allows them to cover ground and mistakes with their feet.
All will be crucial to success against a high-powered Canadian team that wants to punch its ticket to the medal round tomorrow.