As the U.S. prepared for its final pre-tournament game ahead of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, one of the team’s lineup decisions become clearer while another was thrown for a loop. Let’s take a look at the most recent developments:
Quick leading candidate for No. 1 goalie duties
Team USA coach John Tortorella told reporters Tuesday that Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has the “inside track” on being named starter for the tournament. Quick will get the start Tuesday night as the U.S. takes on Finland in Washington, D.C. (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN3).
Quick also started the first pre-tournament game, stopping 32 of 33 shots over two periods against Canada in a U.S. victory Friday. He was also Team USA’s primary starter at the 2014 Olympics, where he played admirably despite the team finishing without a medal. He is the only returnee in net from that team.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who played the third period in each of Team USA’s previous exhibition games, will back up Quick Tuesday night. After rehabbing the injury he sustained during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final during the playoffs, Bishop has looked sharp in the two periods he’s played.
It is unclear if Quick will play the entire game against Finland or not. Tortorella gave each goalie two periods over the two games against Canada. Team USA won’t play again until Saturday, so if Quick is the guy, he should probably get one full game under his belt before they count.
Though Tortorella has not yet confirmed his goalie depth chart for the tournament, it’s looking more likely that Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils ends up as the third goalie. That doesn’t mean he won’t dress or start any games, but it would seem to make it a lot less likely. Of the three goalies, Schneider has the least amount of international and NHL playoff experience.
Barring a particularly poor performance Tuesday, you’d have to think it will be Quick when the games go live on Sept. 17.
Dustin Byfuglien moves to forward (for now)
The other major lineup shakeup from Tuesday’s morning skate is that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien lined up at right wing. He is currently listed on Team USA’s line chart on the fourth line playing alongside Justin Abdelkader and David Backes.
Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Kyle Palmieri were both confirmed as the healthy scratches for the game against Finland, so they’re going to give Byfuglien a good long look at forward.
Byfuglien played on the wing and was a postseason star for the Chicago Blackhawks during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2010. He has also played some forward for the Jets, but he was definitely a better fit getting a ton of minutes on the blue line.
Over the first two exhibition games with Team USA, it looked like the coaching staff was having a hard time figuring out how to best utilize Byfuglien. He played a bunch and got considerable power-play time, but his partner at even strength was in flux.
Here’s the rationale for putting Byfuglien up front:
John Tortorella said the U.S. viewed Dustin Byfuglien as a “wild card” and wants to see other 6D, hence Buff at forward.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) September 13, 2016
It very well could be temporary, but it’s an interesting experiment and it’s only an exhibition game anyway. Now is the time to give it a look.
Byfuglien has always been able to make a bigger impact from the blue line. It’s why the Jets’ experiment to move him up front was relatively short lived. However, with Byfuglien moving to the fourth line, the USA makes itself a little more dynamic up front.
Here is Team USA’s projected forward lineup for Tuesday night’s game (via USA Hockey):
Zach Parise – Joe Pavelski – Blake Wheeler
James van Riemsdyk – Derek Stepan – Patrick Kane
Max Pacioretty – Ryan Kesler – T.J. Oshie
Justin Abdelkader – David Backes – Dustin Byfuglien
Suddenly the U.S. has a more traditional international tournament lineup with scoring talent spread out throughout the top three lines. Byfuglien makes the fourth line more offensively threatening and becomes an immediate upgrade on literally every forward in the “net-front presence” department. He’s still a guy you want getting more minutes, though. And on top of that, if Byfuglien is a better fit at forward, what does that say about the roster construction of this team?
The only way this experiment works is if the defense isn’t crippled by it. Without Byfuglien, it’s not nearly as dynamic a group back there. Ryan Suter and John Carlson make a pretty good top pairing, while Ryan McDonagh and Matt Niskanen should be fine as the second pairing. The team may have some concerns about Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson together, though. They’re just not that threatening as a group. That’s why this experiment may end before the games count.
Team USA also has to continually evaluate ways to boost scoring. Finding out if Byfuglien up front helps in that aim gives the team more roster flexibility as the tournament goes on. The U.S. struggled mightily in trying to get any sustained pressure against Canada, particularly in that second pre-tournament game. So many of their scoring chances were one-and-done. That’s not going to cut it in the tournament.
Even if Byfuglien moves back to D, the U.S. has to explore keeping the top nine that they’ll use against Finland as their permanent group. Against Canada, only two lines were real scoring threats. Moving Abdelkader away from Kesler and Oshie and replacing him with Pacioretty, who started training camp on the top line, could prove to be an effective tweak to improve scoring depth.
We’ll see how it all plays out Tuesday and then eagerly await the lineup sheet for Team USA’s tournament-opening game Saturday against Team Europe.
Source: CBS Sports / World Cup: Quick favored for USA’s No. 1 job; Byfuglien moving to forward?