In a shocking opening game of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Team USA fell to Team Europe, 2-0. Although the U.S. was not a heavy favorite heading into the tournament, they were expected to be favorites over Europe, as well as the Czech Republic (two teams that also play in Group A).
The Americans allowed an early first period goal to Slovakian Marian Gaborik on a 2-on-1, which seemed to take the wind out of their sails.
Gaborik goal pic.twitter.com/oM6vY3y0Ps
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After the goal, U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick was called upon to make multiple odd-man-rush saves, while both teams saw a lot of neutral zone play. There were only 11 shots total in the first period.
Team USA’s biggest misplay was by its biggest player. At 4:02 of the second period, U.S. forward Patrick Kane circled the offensive zone and lost the puck to European forward Tobias Rieder, who sent the puck to the neutral zone. Leon Draisaitl and Nino Niederreiter were sent off on a 2-on-0, with Draisaitl scoring on a beautiful passing play.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) September 17, 2016
The U.S. almost caught a break late in the second period, when James van Riemsdyk redirected the puck with his glove, bouncing it off Derek Stepan’s helmet and into the net. It was determined that van Riemsdyk’s actions warranted no goal on the play.
Team Europe continued to pile it on as forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored on a broken play late in the second period to take a 3-0 lead into the locker room.
The U.S. fired 35 shots at goaltender Jaroslav Halak, but he would preserve an opening-game shutout.
So we saw it and we know what happened. But why did it happen?
Odd-Man Rushes Against
The first goals in the contest came off a 2-on-1 and a 2-on-0. Any coach or player will tell you how glaring of an issue that is for any hockey club.
On the first goal, it was Ryan McDonagh who was caught pinching, leading to Gaborik and Frans Nielsen charging up the ice. Nielsen’s pass sneaked through the U.S. defenders, right to a waiting Gaborik, who won’t miss on that opportunity.
The second goal was largely a mishap from Kane, but both U.S. defensemen were pinching on the play. With Kane being the last man back, and knowing that he is a notorious stickhandler, Ryan Suter and John Carlson should have had better communication. One defenseman should have remained at the top of the zone in the event Kane lost the puck.
Give Patrick Kane More Ice Time
Yes, he was almost the sole reason for Team Europe’s second goal, but the prolific forward should have seen the most ice-time of any U.S. player, especially to help jump start the U.S. offense in the first period. He appeared in just 4:45 of the opening period of the tournament!
Kane, the Hart Trophy winner, did see more time in the second (8:00 on the dot), but was bumped back down to just 4:20 in the third period.
A team that only registered six shots on a hot goaltender could have used a boost in the first period. Head coach John Tortorella chose otherwise and it may have been a huge reason for the U.S. offense starting the tournament in a lackluster fashion.
U.S. Power Play Continues to Disappoint
After going 1-for-11 in the pre-tournament games, Team USA missed multiple opportunities against Team Europe. In the middle of the second period, when it was 2-0, the Americans received their first power play. They received their second just over two minutes after the first ended. The result? Three shots through both chances and Europe’s third goal just 23 seconds after the second ended.
The Americans had one opportunity in the third period, but came up empty again.
The U.S. team had some decent movement with the extra man, but couldn’t muster anything that would be considered a quality scoring chance. With plenty of firepower, including Kane, Joe Pavelski and John Carlson, the Americans need to solve their power-play woes … and fast.
Team Europe Took Control
It was obvious early in the game that Team Europe seized their opportunities. Outside of their goals, Europe laid back and let the Americans come to them, blocking passing lanes and not allowing any significant movement in the offensive zone. Even though it was a disastrous start for the U.S., don’t discredit the Europeans for their excellent start.
The U.S. defensemen are excellent puck movers who thrive on finding an open man on the rush. The issue with this style is it encourages the other team to forecheck and get caught, possibly leaving a forward open for a pass in the neutral zone. The Europeans did not take the bait, allowing the U.S. defensemen to skate freely in their defensive zone when they were breaking out. It disrupted the U.S. Team’s rhythm and it was a common theme throughout the contest.
What Happens From Here
Needless to say, this loss presents a massive problem for Team USA. With only two games remaining in the preliminaries, USA will have to win both games if they expect to advance to the semifinals. One of those games is against Team Canada (Tuesday, 8 ET).
If the U.S. loses to the Canadians, this means that Team Europe would have to win against either Canada or the Czech Republic, and Canada would have to win two of their three games. This would completely knock the U.S. out of the next round of play. This goes without mentioning that the Czech Republic could take a few games, as well.
Let’s face the facts, too: Team Europe played two exhibition games against Team North America and were outscored 11-4 in those games (their other game was a 6-2 win against Team Sweden). North America is expected to compete for the championship, but if the U.S. plans to stick around, they will have to face off with Team Canada again in the semifinals and a team of North America’s caliber in the final.
It’s possible that Team North America’s thumping of Team Europe was a fluke, but Team USA simply did not play Europe with the intensity and dominating style that North America did.
If the Americans expect to challenge for the World Cup, they will have to assemble a few wins and hope Europe and Czech Republic can be on the losing side of games through the rest of the preliminaries.
Feature photo courtesy Jumpy News | Flickr
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