Monday, May 14, 2012

IIHF World Championships - Team USA preliminary rounds update

After slaughtering France 7-2 in the first game on May 4th, Team USA showed up Saturday, May 5th and took down the country up north (Canada) in a 5-4 overtime victory.  It was an exciting game as it was tied 1-1 after the first and 2-2 after the second.  The third period is where it got interesting as both teams traded goals twice all within 10 minutes including Canada (and Blackhawks) defenseman Duncan Keith who tied it up with under 2 minutes to go to tie at 4-4.  However, during the final play, Canada forward John Tavares (Islanders) shot the puck into the stands from his own defensive zone for a delay of game of penalty in the final second.  This carried over into overtime where the American's power play has been super effective thus far.  Who scored?  None other than Captain America, Jack Johnson, #3, (of the Blue Jackets!) with his 3rd goal of the tournament.

Nothing better than seeing stunned Canadian faces in the crowd...

Unfortunately the happiness didn't last long as our boys lost this past Monday to Slovakia 4-2.  The Slovaks sealed the deal with an empty netter.  Team USA could not get anything going offensively with just 20 shots to Slovakia's 32.  Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard played all 3 games so far.  They were all within 4 days too so you have to wonder if he was fatigued in this one a bit.

Team USA was back in action late last week on Thursday and Friday against Belarus and Kazakhstan respectively.  They beat Belarus 5-3 in a somewhat tight game until the 3rd period.  Then on Friday, they went to their back up goalie Bachman in a sort of embarrassing effort against Kazakhstan only winning 3-2 in overtime.  Nevertheless, they fired 50 shots and their goalie was just hot.  On Sunday Team USA came firing back with a 5-0 blowout over Finland.  They dominated their goalie Kari Lehtonen (Dallas Stars) and he ended up leaving the game in the 3rd (injury is what I hear but 5 goals sucks!).

International hockey scoring is a little different than NHL hockey.  For a regulation win, teams get 3 points.  For overtime wins, teams get 2 points.  For overtime losses, teams get 1 point.  If you lose in regulation, it's no points which is why the loss to Slovakia hurt a lot.  After handing Canada its only 4th loss in 42 games, they let a country beat them that hasn't since 2000.  Slovakia is just trying to qualify for the 2014 games!  Even worse was going to OT with Kazakhstan who has only 1 point through this entire tournament courtesy of Team USA.  However, the shut out of Finland makes up for that.

Team USA finishes up first round play Tuesday against Switzerland.  They have already guaranteed their spot in the top 4 (of 8) of their grouping to move to the quarterfinals which begin this coming Thursday.  They are currently in 2nd place with 13 points.  Canada leads their division with 16 points.  These 2 countries as well as Finland and Slovakia will move on from their division.  In the other 8 team division, the 2 teams moving on will be Russia (the only team thus far to not have lost in regulation and are 6-0) and Sweden.  The other 2 likely qualifiers will be the Czech Republic and Norway.

Getting a regulation win tomorrow will lock up the 2nd spot for Team USA in their grouping.  The best part of the tournament thus far is a balanced effort from Team USA.  In each of their 6 games, a best player is voted upon and a different player has been named each time.  Further, Max Pacioretty is in the top 5 in scoring for the whole tournament with 10 points (6 games).  He's only 3 behind my Russian man Geno Malkin (Go Pens!).

With the 2nd spot in their Group H, they will play the 3rd seed Thursday in the quarterfinals (probably Slovakia or Finland).  If they win, the semi-finals will be Saturday against the winner of the 1-4 seeded game (most likely Canada).  If that's the case, then it should be an epic match up!  The winner in all likelihood will face Team Russia in the Finals for the Gold Medal on Sunday.  If the US would lose to Canada, they would still play on Sunday for the Bronze Medal against the loser in other semi-final division (probably Sweden).

Basically, I think Team USA has a legit shot at medaling if they can get the 2-3 seed and win a quarterfinal game.  If will be a tough road to hoe because it will require beating Canada (again), possibly Sweden and in my honest opinion, definitely Russia who is stacked!  See: Malkin, Datsyuk, Semin, Ovechkin, and CBJ defenseman Nikita Nikitin.