It’s do-or-die for Team USA on Tuesday as they take on Team Canada. If the U.S. loses, they’re eliminated from the World Cup and the third game of the group stage will purely be ornamental. If they win, it’s a tough path, but they live to fight another day.
That kind of pressure amplifies every little roster decision. That’s especially true when the coach and general manager have been vocal about the logic behind their roster decisions in a way that suggests they didn’t simply take the best players available but took the players they deemed best suited to play a certain style of game.
Tuesday, coach John Tortorella will stick with Jonathan Quick in net and bring Dustin Byfuglien and Kyle Palmieri — both scratched in Team USA’s first game — back into the lineup. Coming out of the lineup: Team USA’s two Columbus Blue Jackets, Brandon Dubinsky and Jack Johnson. Cory Schneider will also be a scratch with Ben Bishop tapped to be Quick’s backup.
Playing a Big Game
“It’s tough to scratch Jack Johnson,” Tortorella said Tuesday. “It’s tough to scratch Cory Schneider. This is a really big game for USA Hockey.”
Both Byfuglien and Palmieri were scratched in Team USA’s first game, a shutout loss at the hands of Team Europe, who know sit one USA loss away from a berth in the semifinals. Bringing Byfuglien back into the lineup gives the team a little more scoring and a little more physical presence on the blue line. Byfuglien is simply a more versatile option than Johnson.
It’s no secret that the U.S. wants to play a grinding game and Byfuglien can definitely up the ante in that department. Palmieri can also help bring some more goals, which are badly needed. The U.S. scoring depth is maybe being understated at times, but they are nonetheless depending on guys like Patrick Kane and Joe Pavelski to do some heavy lifting.
Talking a Big Game
Dubinsky has been one the late roster additions most questioned and scratching him brings up all the old questions about how this team was constructed.
Dubinsky is a good player, but with all the talk of the U.S.’s tenacity/heart/grit/et al and general manager Dean Lombardi explicitly saying that their team was built with an eye on beating Canada, scratching Dubinsky feels like an admission that the plan isn’t working.
If a player added because of the grit he brings and his history shadowing Sidney Crosby (remember, they’re built to beat Canada) can’t make the roster against Canada, why is he on the team? Why isn’t someone like Tyler Johnson, who offers more versatility and more offense, there to help put points on the board? At least from the outside, it would appear that Dubinsky is on the roster for this exact situation.
Is the Plan Working?
“If it comes to 100 percent skill, they win,” U.S. winger T.J. Oshie opined Tuesday. “100 percent grit, we win.”
Scoring is clearly a problem for the U.S. They had a tough time creating scoring opportunities against Team Europe. No disrespect to some great players on that roster and a couple of the game’s best defensive forwards, but that’s an aging defensive group featuring multiple defenders having a tough time finding an NHL contract.
Oshie shows that the mentality of grit runs up and down the lineup and it’s an odd thing. It’s almost as if there’s a belief that it’s an either-or proposition. It’s not. You’d be hard pressed to prove that in a game where Canada has plenty of players capable of grinding and irritating. Yes, the have Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews. But they also have Brad Marchand, Shea Weber, Corey Perry and Alex Pietrangelo.
If the game plan is to out-grit Canada, the Americans may be barking up the wrong tree. Not only is Canada capable of playing that grinding game, the U.S. hasn’t exactly shown that they’re great at that game outside of about half of an exhibition game where they made it work.
They were not a grinding team against Team Europe. They didn’t drive the net well. They weren’t chipping the puck deep and making defenders pay. They weren’t hacking away at the puck in the crease. They looked passive. The kind of play they exhibited against Team Europe won’t get the job done against Canada.
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Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.