There were a lot of concerns surrounding Team USA’s strategic and personnel decisions entering the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Now it’s easy to see why after a 3-0 beatdown loss to Team Europe in the opening game of the tournament. This was an ugly performance, and suddenly the Americans’ prospects of accomplishing anything in Toronto look dour.
In the weeks leading up to Saturday, coach John Tortorella repeatedly discussed how his team would embrace a physical approach to the World Cup. That was apparent based on the roster decisions of GM Dean Lombardi, who passed on some more skilled players in favor of a “balanced” roster. This is basically an all-star tournament, though. Questions arose hard and fast after the U.S. unveiled its World Cup roster months ago, then again Saturday afternoon after it was announced that Dustin Byfuglien and Cory Schneider were being scratched.
This might’ve been worse than anyone anticipated, though.
Team Europe — not exactly a World Cup favorite — was the faster, better team most of the afternoon. For a group comprised of players from eight different countries, they still managed to look more organized and consistently took advantage of the Americans’ sloppiness early on.
One of the European goals came on a 2-on-0 by Leon Draisaitl, which is literally one of the only times I can ever remember seeing a 2-on-0 involving NHLers outside of the All-Star Game.
Patrick Kane was the culprit on that score, as his attempt to make an aggressive play with the puck in the offensive zone led to a turnover with his defensemen out of position. Jonathan Quick tried to stay close to home, but Draisaitl and Nino Niederreiter executed a gorgeous play. The U.S. leaned hard on Kane to try to create but rarely was he on the ice with anyone as skilled as, say, Artemi Panarin. The team got chances but couldn’t finish. In the third period, Brandon Dubinsky took a double-minor for high-sticking Zdeno Chara, taking the steam out of any chance for a big late comeback.
Jonathan Quick was 13-of-16 in goal, yet you couldn’t really blame him too much considering the stops he was being asked to make at times.
This was supposed to be a winnable game for the U.S. before a much tougher meeting against Canada on Tuesday, so the result is worrisome. If this is how they played against Team Europe, who knows what awaits against a team rolling out Jonathan Toews as its No. 3 center.
Not everything was bad for the Americans, luckily. They outshot the Europeans, 34-16, and won 56 percent of the faceoffs. Even with score effects, they can take something from that. And in the second period, they had a goal waved off on a controversial call after the puck bounced off James van Riemsdyk’s chest, then Derek Stepan’s head, before ending up in the goal.
But the constant defensive miscues were ugly, and the end result was a blowout loss after some questionable hockey decisions by the U.S. leading up to this tournament. There’s still time to turn things around with upcoming games against Canada and the Czech Republic — the former will be much tougher than the latter — but if this first game was any indication, Team USA’s trip in Toronto isn’t going to last very long.