In what turned out to be a much more subdued pre-tournament game compared to the more physical contests Team USA played against Canada, the Americans earned a 3-2 victory over Finland Tuesday night. It was their final tune up before the World Cup of Hockey begins Saturday.
Team USA finished the pre-tournament with a 2-1 record and learned plenty about themselves over that span as they continue preparations for the tournament. The Americans will head to Toronto Wednesday to put the finishing touches on everything before the games go live on Sept. 17.
Tuesday night’s contest was a bit sleepy, so there wasn’t a whole lot to learn about Team USA, but there were a few points of note. The Americans pretty much dominated the first half of the game, but took their foot off the gas to close things out. It looked like both teams were just trying to get through the game without anyone getting hurt.
Here’s a look at the few things we can take away from Team USA’s win in Washington, D.C., as well as some official roster news.
1. Jonathan Quick is officially Team USA’s No. 1 goalie to start the World Cup
After the game, coach John Tortorella made what was already assumed official. Jonathan Quick will be Team USA’s starter when the tournament begins Saturday against Team Europe. It’s a role he’ll likely retain for the duration of the World Cup, too.
Ben Bishop will be his backup, while Cory Schneider will not dress for the opener.
Over two pre-tournament games, Quick made 62 saves on 65 shots. He played the first two periods of the 5-2 win over Canada and was in net for the entirety of Tuesday night’s contest.
The Los Angeles Kings netminder has looked very sharp in the pre-tournament games so far. He’s also had some help in front of him as the U.S. has also done a pretty good job of keeping pucks clear and limiting second chances for their opponents.
Quick scrambles a lot more in the crease, leaving him exposed if he gives up a rebound. Team USA collapses down to the net a lot in their own end, which gets a lot of sticks and bodies in the way. That was readily apparent many times against Finland. After some tougher stretches in the last two seasons with the Kings, Quick has a chance to reclaim his status as one of the game’s best big-game goalies.
2. Team USA appears to have found a better mix at forward
Tortorella changed things up with his forward group. Part of it was done to experiment a little bit as he put defenseman Dustin Byfuglien at right wing on the fourth line (more on that in a bit), but Team USA also re-worked their top three lines.
The new jumble spread the scoring out a bit. The key moves included putting Max Pacioretty, who started on the first line, down on the third line. Also, James van Riemsdyk moved up to the second line from the fourth line, Justin Abdelkader went to the fourth line and then there was some mixing and matching throughout the game.
In general, the tweaking seemed to make for a much more threatening offensive attack overall. Ryan Kesler and T.J. Oshie both scored goals while playing alongside Pacioretty, giving the U.S. three threatening scoring lines instead of just two. It didn’t take them long to get going either, as they scored Team USA’s first goal just over a minute into the contest.
While the fourth line could continue to be tweaked, leaving some combination of the nine players they had in their first three lines for much of Tuesday’s game is probably the way to go in the tournament.
3. The Byfuglien-at-forward experiment should be short-lived
Tortorella said he wanted to get a look at the other six defensemen, but also wanted to see if the team could put Byfuglien up front if they needed him.
The big Winnipeg Jets defenseman logged just 10:32 of ice time as a fourth-line wing and it didn’t look like a good fit. In the two games against Canada, he played over 20 minutes in each game and was used in a lot of different situations. It looks like Tortorella is still trying to figure out how to optimize such a unique player, but he just didn’t look comfortable at forward, but he did have his biggest hit of the pre-tournament Tuesday:
There is little doubt that he is more impactful as a defensemen and he looks way more comfortable there, too. It was a worthwhile experiment, but it’s one that probably has already ended.
The question becomes, which of USA’s defensemen do they sit down? Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson were essentially the fifth and sixth defensemen Tuesday night. Erik has looked to be the better of the two Johnsons through the two games he’s played, but both he and Byfuglien are right shots. Jack Johnson is one of only three left-shot defensemen on the roster. If handedness matters, and it probably does to this staff, how Tortorella works this becomes a bit more challenging.
4. John Carlson looks ready to have a big tournament
While playing in his home building in the nation’s capital, Carlson looked fantastic. He and Ryan Suter have made a really strong top pairing for Team USA and that shows in the numbers as the U.S. were controlling the puck with those two on the ice.
Carlson had a power-play goal in the second pre-tournament game and added an assist Tuesday night. He also helped set up Team USA’s second goal with a long stretch pass. The Caps blueliner is also going to be one of the key players to Team USA’s ability to score in transition.
After injuries cost him a good chunk of time last season, the 26-year-old looks incredibly sharp early on. Look for him to be a major factor for the Americans in a substantial role.
5. Finland’s Patrik Laine is going to be a lot of fun to watch in the World Cup
Finland nearly came back in this game after entering the third period with a 3-0 deficit. They started chipping away at it thanks to their 18-year-old sniper showing off that world-class shot. Quick was actually square to Laine as he took the shot and it didn’t matter.
Aside from the goal, Laine was a continual threat. He showed some creativity with his puck skills and was never afraid to take a chance at the net when he had the opening. Despite his youth, the Jets’ No. 2 overall pick is going to be one of Finland’s most important players at the World Cup.
Source: CBS Sports / USA tops Finland in exhibition, Quick named World Cup starter: 5 takeaways