The American team might not be around for much longer unless it gets its act together and plays to its identity.
The team that was supposed to be oozing with grit and character displayed almost none of either. The team that was supposed to be so difficult to play against rolled over. And the team with some of the most offensively talented players on the planet failed to score a single goal.]
And as a result, Team USA finds itself chasing in the World Cup of Hockey after one game. And if it doesn’t get its feet moving soon, it could be looking at a painfully short experience. Probably what was most shocking about USA’s 3-0 loss to Team Europe in Game 1 of the World Cup was its inability to score a goal, a plight that has become all too common for the Americans in best-on-best play.
Going back to the Olympics in Sochi, Team USA has been shut out three straight games of best-on-best play. All told, the Americans have gone exactly 197 minutes and 59 seconds without finding the back of the net, something Phil Kessel did early in the third period of USA’s 5-2 win over the Czech Republic in the Olympic quarterfinal. Kessel’s not here, of course, but Justin Abdelkader is.
And the American team might not be for much longer unless it gets its act together. Team USA coach John Tortorella actually liked his team’s compete level in the game, which was something of a surprise. Led by defending Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane, who coughed up the puck that led to a 2-on-none on Team Europe’s second goal of the game, a lot of players looked like they didn’t want to be here.
(Leon Draisaitl, who scored the abovementioned goal, had a great line when asked the last time he had that clear a 2-on-none. “Probably sometime in peewee,” he said.)
For his part, Tortorella said he thinks his team will get the egregious giveaways “chipped out” by the time it meets Canada in what has suddenly become a must-win game Tuesday night. The coach was just as perplexed by his team’s inability to score goals as almost everyone else was.
“The part of the game that bothered me most was creating some scoring chances,” said Tortorella, who seemed uncharacteristically relaxed after the game. “Better quality scoring chances.”
Just spit-balling here, but that’s not going to happen until this group begins to play to its identity. Because in case you haven’t been watching the game lately, quality scoring chances tend not to come to teams that don’t move their feet, don’t go to the difficult areas and fail to create follow-up chances after the first save is made.
With one in the loss column and already down three goals in what could be a crucial goals-for-and-against factor, Team USA now finds itself facing a gut check. If it wants to play to its identity, it might want to insert Dustin Byfuglien into the lineup and play him on defense where he belongs. And it will be imperative that this team begin to respond positively to adversity, something it hasn’t done lately. A good case in point was in the second period when a James van Riemsdyk goal on the power play was called back because he was deemed to have directed the puck in with his body. (Replays showed the puck glanced off Derek Stepan’s helmet, which actually wouldn’t have made a difference.) The Americans came back with a dominant shift before giving up the third goal on another defensive breakdown.
Tortorella said before the game that he did not want his team chasing the game, but that’s exactly what it did. And now it’s in the position where it’s going to be chasing the tournament and may very well find itself in a situation where its destiny will be dictated by someone else.
“This is not a marathon as NHL coaches always talk about in the NHL season,” Tortorella said. “This is a sprint. And we’ve put ourselves in a spot now where we’re chasing the tournament. It’s a spot that we didn’t want to be in. It’s a very dangerous spot, but we’re here. We just need to stay together and not blow ourselves up here, get ready for our next opponent and try to do better.”