Time is running out really fast for the United States at the World Cup of Hockey tournament taking place in Toronto, Canada. And it’s a strange statement to make since they have only played one game. But their unexpected loss to Team Europe on Saturday really put the pressure on the U.S. who are going into a massive showdown against Canada on Tuesday night. If they lose that game, fans and experts know that it’s pretty much over.
“That’s our championship game,” said USA coach John Tortorella on Sunday. “We knew we’d have to go through Canada. That game has just come earlier for us here right now, and that’s the way we’re approaching it.”
The Americans will really have to play like champions after getting shut out 3-0 by Europe, which everyone in the tournament knows is a team made up of older players from Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Slovenia and France who have never played together before and are like slower than the young US team. But experts were wrong.
In the other opening game, Canada blew out the Czech Republic 6-0 in their first game, which made them look so good that former U.S. star Mike Modano tweeted out ‘to cancel the rest of the World Cup and give the Canadians the trophy’. But it won’t be that easy.
Yet the US knows their inability to create quality scoring chances against Europe is what got them in this hole, so the coach created a drastically different looking squad at practice on Sunday with Justin Abdelkader on a line with Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane and centre Derek Stepan to shore up the blue line. Tough defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was on the power play and 30-goal scorer Kyle Palmieri who are now on a line together, were scratched in the opener and should make a difference.
Tortorella looks to be in playoff form, since he refused to divulge his lineup to the media and told them, “Don’t infer.” We’ll we won’t infer since the US performance was so bad that everyone knew Tortorella would have to shake things up. “We lost the game, so you think there is going to be some changes naturally,” said Kane, who had a turnover which led to a rare 2-on-0 rush and a European goal. “We had some chances on the power play, had some good looks, but we still want to create more. We still feel like there was not really enough there, so I think naturally that is where some change is going to come,” he said.
Change will have to go beyond mixing up forward lines and defensive pairings especially since, if you count the final two games at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Americans haven’t scored in three consecutive games at this level of international competition. So they will be ready to break through.
This US team was set up to be physical and very hard to play against, and everyone knew the goals would have to be manufactured since there was no chemistry to begin with. But Tortorella wants his players to go to the extra mile and crash the net more because that’s what what those guys do best.
“Whether they’re pretty goals or dirty goals they all count,” Palmieri said. “There’s no pictures on the scoresheet.”
With top name players the Americans will have to figure out who they really are if they want to beat the Canadians.
“I think establishing an identity will be important,” said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations. “I think (coach John Tortorella) wants to leave a lasting impression in games about the kind of team we are and the kind of game we are going to play.”
The Americans have been viewed as underdogs in this tournament. Las Vegas oddsmaker Bovada has the Americans at 13/2 favorites to win, putting them fourth behind Canada (10/11), Russia (9/2) and Sweden (5/1). So they know if they want to prove the oddsmakers wrong, they need to beat Canada convincingly.
Canada’s top line has chemistry, Sidney Crosby with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have clicked immediately, and the depth of the lineup is undoubtedly the strongest in the tournament. So while the U.S. juggles its lineup and try to rediscover its identity, Canada isn’t fixing what completely broke down the Czech Republic on Saturday night.
“I can’t remember changing the lineup after a win,” said Canada’s coach Mike Babcock. “Scotty (Bowman) would phone me and say, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Babcock said that Canada knows what’s at stake and won’t get bloated up or “fatter” with ego and confidence after decimating the Czechs. The Americans need to find some of that confidence after the fiasco with Europe.
“There are times to make plays and guys didn’t have the confidence to make that play,” said U.S. winger Max Pacioretty, who was demoted to the fourth line in practice. “In a tournament like this, we don’t have time to try and find our confidence. Right from the start, we need to be able to play our game.”
What the US game plan is remains a question. Like Modano, past US champions Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick ripped their team’s performance, with Hull saying on ESPN that he could’ve had a hat trick in that game at age 52 and Roenick tweeted out that Europe “embarrassed us.” In his tweet Roenick moaned, “Seriously??? That’s the best USA can give??? Defending champs if u look at it literally. That’s a joke!! Europe embarrassed us. Wake up!!!”
“Those guys proved that they can win,” US winger T.J. Oshie said. “Sometimes you need to hear some hard words to get you going.” Those are a lot of hard words they are getting for a bad start, even though Tortorella told media his team wasn’t “awful” in the loss. Tortorella had no qualms with his team’s energy level or effort against Europe, just the scoring touch was missing, but these elements will have to be ramped up against Canada if they want a chance to win.
“Listen, that’s not a U.S.-Canada game,” Tortorella said. “When you play Canada, it’s more of a clash. … (Europe) was just a different type game. But when we play our next opponent, I don’t think there’s going to be any problem as far as our emotion.”
We’ll choose Canada in this clash of the titans since Canada has won the last two Olympic tournaments, and three of the last four. The Canadians’ top nine forwards are Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton are all superstars, particularly with Carey Price healthy enough to play in net.