The USA faced a tough task in their game on Tuesday night. After not earning a win in their first contest against Team Europe, the Americans needed to get a win versus a Canadian team that most regard as the top choice to claim the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
As the puck was dropped, the US didn’t look as desperate on the ice as they had claimed in they would need to be in the days leading up to the game, with Canada getting the best chances early on. They did manage to score the first goal of game however, when one of their few forays into the offensive zone in the opening minutes found Ryan McDonagh alone with the puck in the slot. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic bodily removed from his crease-front position, McDonagh shot the puck past a distracted Carey Price to open the scoring.
Team USA kept the pressure on with offensive-zone time, followed up with some post-whistle scrums that finally showed their determination to win the game. Unfortunately for them, that physicality seemed to remind their opponents of the strategy to counter the American toughness with Canadian skill, and the lead was quickly erased.
With Canada set up in the offensive zone once again, a shot from the blue line off the stick of Vlasic missed the net, but bounced off the end boards and right onto Matt Duchene’s tape. He quickly backhanded it into an open cage as Jonathan Quick was recovering from his reaction to the initial shot.
Just 14 seconds, the relief Team USA was feeling after opening the score was wiped out when Corey Perry drove to the net and had the puck bounce in off his body to the Canadians a quick 2-1 lead.
Minutes later, a perfect touch pass through traffic by Brent Burns broke the defensive coverage of the US, and Duchene had a mini-breakway from the faceoff dot. That proved to be all the space he needed, as he quickly bore down on the net, deked his way across the front of the crease, and fired the puck through the five hole he opened up with the move.
Montreal Canadiens fans held their breath when, minutes later, Justin Abdelkader continued on to the net after having his chance broken up, colliding with Price in the crease. The calm netminder stepped in immediately to prevent his teammates from exacting revenge, instead notifying them that the only effect Abdelkader’s action was was earning himself two minutes in the box for goaltender interference.
Canada wasn’t able to make the team pay for its transgression, instead having their man advantage neutralized when Perry was called for a trip behind the offensive goal line. The first concluded at four-on-four with the Americans trailing the must-win game three goals to one.
In the second period, the Americans seemed to forego the physical strategy that had failed them in the first for a more run-and-gun game that saw that trading chances with the Canadians.
The beneficiary of that altered style turned out to be the more skilled Team Canada, who made it 4-1 with a highlight-reel play.
John Tavares made Matt Niskanen look like an amateur with an outside-in deke on his march to the net, watching as the American defender fell right out of the way to open a lane to the net. Patrice Bergeon matched his net drive, and was in position for Tavares’ pass came across in front of Quick, off McDonagh’s skate and in for a comfortable 4-1 advantage.
Tavares dangles and sets up a goal for Canada pic.twitter.com/dRUZhfeT7H— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) September 21, 2016
Down by three goals starting the third, and having been the subject of the ire of coaches and media alike, Max Pacioretty decided to throw his weight around to shift momentum in his team’s favour, but it ended up backfiring. He caught Logan Couture after he’d made a pass up the boards, hitting him in the numbers into the boards, and was sent to penalty box to put the Canadians back to work on the power play.
The Canadians didn’t have the killer instinct necessary to put the game to bed, casually passing the puck around the offensive zone while Pacioretty served his boarding minor. They held the run of play even after the penalty expired, giving the Americans few opportunities to gain a foothold.
USA seemed resigned to its fate, putting up little fight as the minutes wound down on the third. Any rush remotely resembling a scoring chance was either turned aside by the experienced defence or easily held by Price.
Perhaps wanting a challenge, Price made a stop and whacked the rebound over the end glass with just over seven minutes remaining. The US came close to scoring, but an unscreened shot from the point clanged off the post and stayed out.
They did make it a bit of a contest with just two minutes remaining, as Price was unable to squeese the post as Joe Thornton directed a pass attempt by him.
The US pulled Quick for an extra attacker, but were unable to beat Price again, falling by a final score of 4-2.
With the win, Canada secures a spot in the semi-finals, while the Americans, with two losses, cannot qualify for the four-team playoff. After all the questions, even prior to the tournament, about the way they built their team, their elimination after two blowout losses will force a major conversation about the future of the United States’ hockey program.
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) September 21, 2016
- If not for Carey Price’s quick intervention when Brad Marchand went after Justin Abdelkader, the game could have gone very differently after that goaltender interference call. He acknowledged the team’s desire to protect him, assured them he wasn’t bothered by the contact, and encouraged them to get their retribution on the scoresheet all with one gesture. There’s a reason why he’s regarded as not only one of the best athletes in the game, but also one of its most collected players on the ice.
- At one point late in the first period, with the score 3-1 in favour of Canada, Sportnet’s broadcast showed a graphic with the hits tally for each squad. At the time, USA held a significant edge in the physicality, with 19 hits to Canada’s five. If the Americans’ goal was to play the body on their opponents, the strategy was well executed, but no very effective.
- The team was built to play that style in an attempt to counter what Canada would be able to do with their skill. When they switched it up to play an open offensive style, the game was over. Their roster was no match for a Canadian squad filled to the brim with offensive threats. If the plan going in was to compose the team in a way to beat Canada by grinding them down, a year’s worth of scouting and preparation crumbled within about 12 minutes of game action.
Canada wraps up the preliminary round tomorrow night in a battle of undefeated teams as they take on a surprising Team Europe squad. Team USA will play the last game of the round robin on Thursday night, in a battle of teams at the opposite end of the spectrum, when they take on the winless Czech Republic.