Over the weekend, Team USA and Team Canada competed in two pre-tournament games. The two nations split the two-game series each winning a game on their home soil, Team USA winning the first game by a score of 4-2 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio and Team Canada winning the second by a score of 5-2 at the Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa.
Now, with just one pre-tournament game remaining for Team USA, there are still some questions that need to be answered.
1. Is It Quick’s Net to Lose?
All three United States goalies made appearances in net during the States’ two pre-tournament games against Canada.
Jonathan Quick looked the best of the three, making 29 saves on 30 shots in the opening two periods of the first game between the North American rivals. Ben Bishop manned the crease during the third period of both games for the United States where he made 22 saves on 24 shots. Cory Schneider’s only ice time came during the second game of the back-to-back where he played during the first two periods and made 20 saves on 24 shots.
After two pre-tournament games, it feels like Quick has taken the lead in the race for Team USA’s crease. Quick anchored Team USA during the early moments of the team’s first game where he stopped plenty of high-quality opportunities for Team Canada. Team USA was able to find the back of the net twice before Quick allowed a goal in the second period and had a three-to-one lead going into the third period of the game, which Bishop would play.
Moving towards Team USA’s final pre-tournament game against Team Finland, there is the feeling that it’s Quick’s net to lose. On top of Quick’s performance, when his competition decides to give a team an open net to shoot at like Bishop did below, the race for the net might be an easy decision.
Bishop trying to hand Canada a goal, McDonagh makes a save pic.twitter.com/eApG2FJ1wc
— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 10, 2016
2. Is Team USA Penalty Prone?
To say there were a few moments where the physicality between Team USA and Team Canada felt a little goonish would be an understatement.
In just two games the United States grabbed 47 total penalty minutes. Kyle Palmieri was on the receiving end of three minor penalties and Ryan Kesler notched 15 minutes worth thanks to a boarding penalty against Canada’s Shea Weber.
Kesler hit on Weber pic.twitter.com/PQfikR7Efh
— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 10, 2016
Was the States’ parade to the box just a product of the extra aggression that comes along with a USA-versus-Canada game? Will Team USA learn to ride the line when it comes to using their physicality in future games?
Team USA was built to be physical but needs to learn where the line between being physical and getting tossed in the box is.
If Team USA continues to cross the line they would have to up their game while on the penalty kill, where they allowed three goals on eight penalty kills against Canada. A penalty prone team that gives up three goals in every eight chances won’t last long in an already short tournament.
3. Where Does Team USA Stack Up?
This might be the biggest question still looming.
After two games, where Team USA stands in the tournament should be a bit clearer. However, splitting the opening two games against the Canadians, along with the results of the rest of the pre-tournament games, the feel for Team USA may have only gotten cloudier.
Team USA was able to split their series with the Canadians but during the two-game series, it felt as if Team USA was chasing or a step behind Team Canada much of the time. In the United States’ win over Canada, the U.S. benefited from stellar goaltending from Quick, shaky goaltending at the other end from Carey Price and seemed to be outworked for large chunks of the game but managed to pull off the win.
It felt like much of the same in game two for Team USA, only this time the States didn’t have a two-goal cushion to help them. Instead, Team Canada jumped out to a three-goal lead before Team USA was able to find the back of the net which helped the Canadians to a 5-2 win.
While Team USA and Team Canada were splitting their two-game series, the rest of the field was participating in their own pre-tournament games and getting much of the same result. Sweden and Finland split their own series, Sweden having won their second game 6-3 and Finland taking the first game 3-2 in overtime. Team Russia and the Team Czech Republic followed suit splitting their games by scores of 4-3 and 2-1 (SO) respectively.
The only team that was really able to distance themselves from their opponents and give teams a complete feel of what they have to offer was Team North America. Since the tournament opened, Team North America has been showcasing their young talent and speed going 2-0 against Team Europe. Team North America outscored the Europeans 11-4 thanks to a 7-4 win and a 4-0 Matt Murray shutout. The kids are ready to play and Team Europe was on the tracks for the first two games.
Now with just one pre-tournament game remaining for all eight teams the pack might be as crowded as it has ever been. The only team that showed they are clearly better than the team they opened their pre-tournament schedule against was Team North America.
The final pre-tournament games should give everyone more of a feel for where teams stand in the hierarchy of the World Cup of Hockey. A new opponent who has played another team could help some cross referencing when it comes to the skill level of all the teams involved.