Team USA may have all but sealed its World Cup fate on the first day of the tournament. After a flat start and a too-little, too-late finish, the Americans fell to Team Europe — the conglomeration of players whose nations were not deemed worthy of an invite — 3-0.
It is a stunning result that puts Team USA’s hopes of advancing in a very precarious position.
With the loss, Team USA most likely has to win both of its preliminary-round games and get some help to have a shot at advancing to the semifinals. And one of those two remaining opponents includes the juggernaut that is Canada. Precarious, indeed.
Team Europe got goals off of odd-man rushes from Marian Gaborik and Leon Draisaitl, while Pierre-Edouard Bellemare tipped one in for the dagger in the second period.
As far as losses go, this has to rank among the worst in USA’s history in terms of best-on-best tournaments like the World Cup and Olympics. Europe has talent and played a fantastic game, but there just aren’t many comparable losses in Team USA’s history in best-on-best tournaments as they tend not to lose to teams outside of the “Big Six” — Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic — in these events.
A loss like this puts everything into question for the team after only one game. Roster construction, coaching decisions and everything get called into question and the U.S. is going to be looking for answers. They might not have enough time to find the answers, though.
Here are a few takeaways from the game:
1. Team USA’s listless scoring attack is not new
Team USA struggled to get anything going offensively against a European team that got absolutely torched but the 23-and-under team just a week ago. How, with multiple former 30-goal scorers in the lineup and the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner not at least threaten consistently?
There was a real lack of imagination, coupled with some incredible goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and defensive discipline from Team Europe. The Americans could not find a way to break through. They ended up with 37 shots, but 17 of those came in the third period when they were already chasing the game.
Unfortunately for the Americans, this is a really familiar position. They really, really struggled in their last two games of the 2014 Olympics in much the same manner. They were blanked in their semifinal against Canada, costing them a shot at the gold medal, and then got shut out by Finland in the bronze medal game. Throw in this game and that’s nine periods without a goal in a best-on-best tournament.
Team USA might not have the skill of a Canada, Russia or Sweden, but this is beyond unacceptable for a team of this caliber.
The effort was there in the third period, but the lack of creativity is a testament to the kind of team the U.S. brought to this tournament. They couldn’t get sustained pressure in the offensive zone and that looks like a direct result of their inability to enter the zone cleanly. They have one of the best players in the game at bringing the puck into the offensive zone in Patrick Kane, but even he struggled to make that happen.
They said that this U.S. team was built with beating Canada in mind. It’s hard to see how that’s going to work when they can’t beat a team that’s not even a real national team.
2. Continual breakdowns burned the U.S.
Over the first two periods, Team USA’s decision-making was troubling. They gave up multiple odd-man breaks, two of which ended up with pucks in the back of their net including one that came off of a two-on-zero rush. Some of the mistakes were out of being over-aggressive. You can live with that because you have to take chances to create offense, but when you’re not scoring, those moments prove costly.
The second goal Europe scored came after Patrick Kane was trying to make a play. You need him to take chances to be successful, but he was double-shifting with fourth-line players and tried to do a little too much on this particular play. Leon Draisaitl didn’t have to do much to finish this.
Europe only ended up with 17 shots in the game, but they converted on American mistakes while making so few of their own. This U.S. roster is not built to chase the way that they had to in this game and it showed.
And as a side note: Jonathan Quick could have done differently on any of the goals. His stat line looks ugly, but he got hung out to dry too often. They can’t hang this one on him.
3. Team USA did have a controversial goal disallowed
To be fair to the Americans, they did have one puck go into the net. It just didn’t count. Team USA head coach John Tortorella maintains that he though the goal should have counted, but it looks like the refs got the call right.
The puck went in after it appeared that James van Riemsdyk intentionally redirected the puck with his chest. The puck then glanced off of Derek Stepan’s helmet and into the net.
Just because it deflected off of Stepan’s helmet, it doesn’t mean it should count. For example, if van Riemsdyk propelled that puck with his glove and it went in, the hand pass would have wiped out a goal. Directing the puck on the net intentionally with anything other than a stick is going to be disallowed, regardless of deflection.
The official ruling from the NHL, which is covering all goal reviews:
At 14:10 of the second period in the Team USA/Team Europe game, video review determined that James van Riemsdyk deliberately directed the puck into the Team Europe net with his body. According to Rule 78.5 (i) “Apparent goals shall be disallowed when the puck has been directed, batted or thrown into the net by an attacking player other than with a stick.”
The fact that the puck deflected off of Derek Stepan has no bearing on the ruling. According to Rule 67.6 “A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who bats or directs the puck and it is deflected into the net off any player, goalkeeper or official.” No goal Team USA.
4. Harder to explain the Dustin Byfuglien scratch now
After playing in all three exhibition games, and getting used a bunch against Canada, Dustin Byfuglien was a surprise healthy scratch. Tortorella had sung Byfuglien’s praises, particularly the fact that he could use him in so many ways. Apparently over the course of three exhibition games, Tortorella couldn’t figure out how to use him, though, because he wasn’t in the lineup today.
Before the game, Tortorella would say only that it was how things worked out after the exhibitions. After the game, he said he thought about using Byfuglien as a defensive forward, a role that the natural defenseman has repeatedly said he doesn’t like.
Byfuglien is one of the better offensive-minded defensemen in the NHL. He can be the trigger man on the power play or he could even be the net-front guy. More than anything else, he makes plays. Even if he can be prone to some of the same mistakes Team USA, he is a dangerous player in so many ways. Team USA’s offense was toothless and it makes second-guessing this decision almost too easy.
5. Team USA becomes a Czech Republic fan Monday
Team USA is going to be rooting for the Czech Republic to beat Team Europe in Monday afternoon’s game. That’s their best hope of at least creating a potential three-way tie scenario, assuming the Americans can beat at least the Czechs in their final preliminary-round game.
Assuming the U.S. does not beat Canada, and Europe, the Czechs and Team USA end up as one-win teams, that creates a tie-breaking scenario that would potentially allow the Americans to advance, based on a four-step tiebreaking procedure (ROW, goal differential and total goals are all big factors). But even in that case, getting shut out by Europe puts them at a disadvantage in the tie-breaker. Basically, they need a ton of help already.
If Europe wins that game Monday, the best Team USA can do is tie Europe with wins over both Canada and the Czechs. In that situation, Team USA loses the head-to-head tiebreaker due to the loss.
The way this tournament started could not have been a bigger disaster for Team USA.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Team USA stunned by Team Europe in World Cup of Hockey opener: 5 takeaways