Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
The 2016 World Cup of Hockey officially kicked off today with an afternoon game between Team USA and Team Europe. Team Europe, you’ll remember, is the hodge podge team with NHL players from 8 different nations competing under one strange logo. Team USA, on the other hand, is made up of players all from America, but somehow they missed the memo that this is a best-on-best tournament, because I don’t see Tyler Johnson or Justin Faulk on the roster. They’re also playing with the massive handicap of having John Tortorella at the helm.
If you missed the opening game of this excellent tournament, fear not! We have a handy recap here just for you!
LINEUPS AND QUESTIONABLE DECISIONS
From Team Europe’s end, everything made sense. From Team USA’s end…?
Right, okay, Palmieri hasn’t been great in the pre-tournament games, that’s fair. Cory Schneider and Dustin Byfuglien?
That doesn’t bode well for Team USA.
THE FIRST PERIOD AND MORE QUESTIONABLE DECISIONS
In the interest of not wasting your time, I’m going to be real with you: This wasn’t the most exciting period in the world. USA came out flat, Europe took advantage of the USA defensemen pinching too often, and despite all the touting of Jonathan Quick as the best goalie in the NHL by the esteemed Barry Melrose, Europe scored on their second shot attempt.
The goal was scored by Marion Gaborik on a 2-on-1. The pass from Frans Nielsen was a beauty, and — surprise!! — Quick was pulled out of position and left a basically-open net for Gaborik. That went as one would expect.
Full play. I like this Nielsen guy. pic.twitter.com/2ULmbaFvTI
— Kyle M. (@KyleWIIM) September 17, 2016
One would think that John Tortorella had some things to say during intermission, but alas for the USA…
THE SECOND PERIOD AND A BIZARRE DISALLOWED GOAL
They didn’t get off to a hot start, giving up another odd-man break shortly into the second. Europe didn’t score on that one, but moments later, Patrick Kane tried to do too much and ended up turning the puck over. That results in a 2-on-0, and Quick had absolutely no chance.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) September 17, 2016
Not Kane’s finest look, eh? In his defense, it would have been cool for some of his teammates to be backing him up on that play. Unfortunately for him and for the team, they weren’t, and Europe takes advantage.
(Around this point, the Americans remembered that they’re a big, physical team and started throwing around their weight a bit. #Grit.)
Unlike in the first, there was glimmer of hope in this period for Team USA. For a moment, it looked like the Americans had gotten on the board after a mess in the crease, a real character goal that Tortorella probably approved of mightily. Unfortunately for him, the goal was called back because James van Riemsdyk “deliberately directed the puck into the Team Europe net with his body.” Take note, everyone: You cannot, in fact, chest-bump a puck into the net, even if it bounces off another teammate’s head in the process.
(Like I said, bizarre disallowed goal.)
To add insult to injury, shortly after another unsuccessful US power play, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare displayed some very impressive hand-eye coordination to tip the puck into the net.
2 angles of Bellemare’s goal pic.twitter.com/8IvkRa07nc
— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 17, 2016
3-0 Europe, and that’s how the period would end.
Bet Tortorella had even more things to say during this intermission.
THE THIRD PERIOD AND A BRICK WALL
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) September 17, 2016
That’s it. That’s all I have to say about this period.
Some people believe that 3-0 is the most dangerous lead in hockey, so there was still hope coming into the third. Jaroslav Halak laughs in the face of those people, and blocked 17 shots in 20 minutes to slam the door shut on the Americans.
Both teams got a bit sloppy in the third, taking penalties they probably shouldn’t have. Brandon Dubinsky even managed to high-stick Zdeno Chara, which takes some talent. And then he drew blood, putting the US on the penalty kill for four very valuable minutes.
(Side note: There are some pretty good penalty killers on this US team.
Side note 2: In the interest of full disclosure though, the Europeans don’t have the best power play.)
In any case, the US managed to squander two power play opportunities of their own, although that was due more to Halak’s incredible effort than their own ineptitude — seriously, Halak made six saves during a single power play at one point. He finished the game with a 35-game shutout. USA got Halak’d.
CONCLUSION AND JOHN TORTORELLA DOUBLING DOWN
Europe got slaughtered in pre-tournament play by North America, but North America is speedy, skilled, and great at the transition game. The USA is not that.
Remember, Europe is coming off of a really impressive 6-2 win against the Swedes. Granted, Lundqvist didn’t look too hot, but that game was probably a harbinger of things to come, as the Europeans looked like they were finally developing some team chemistry after looking terribly disjointed against the young guns.
The Americans actually got plenty of shot attempts off, which we can see thanks to HockeyStats.ca.
To give credit where credit is due, the Americans weren’t exactly sitting back on their heels, especially in the third. However, their neutral zone play was really unimpressive, and the defense had a hard time getting the puck to their forwards cleanly. That does not make for an abundance of high danger scoring chances.
We always figured that the USA roster was built for games low in scoring and high in physicality and grit. To succeed that way, though, you still need goals, and you need a very, very good goalie.
Jonathan Quick is a good goalie. Ben Bishop is better than Quick. Cory Schneider is better than both of them.
For the US, Schneider should be the obvious choice in net, as his performance has been stronger and more consistent. pic.twitter.com/TfcgxZFyae
— Ian Fleming (@imfleming16) September 6, 2016
To maximize the USA’s chances of winning this tournament (and this game), you’d figure that the best move would be to put Schneider in net. You’d also figure that Dustin Byfuglien, who leads the American blue line in 2015-2016 points with 53, would be in the lineup.
Of course, this is a John Tortorella team, and John Tortorella went with Jonathan Quick in net and decided to scratch Byfuglien in favor of Jack Johnson.
After the 3-0 loss, Tortorella stuck by his decision.
John Tortorella on scratching Dustin Byfuglien: “We made the decision today this was our best lineup.”
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) September 17, 2016
Good luck with that. I’m sure Team Canada will be happy to show Team USA exactly what they think of your “best lineup.”
P.S. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if USA Hockey built a team based on talent rather than the nebulous concepts of “character” and “identity”?