Not Bad, Not Great
The World Juniors are a consistent staple that everyone is able to enjoy around the holidays. On Christmas day 2020, Team USA faced their biggest test thus far against a very good Russian squad. The US entered this tournament with questions about the ‘greeness’ of their blue line, with only one returning defenceman in captain Cam York. 5th overall pick, Jake Sanderson is also on the back end and is expected to play a big role, but outside of that, a pretty mediocre D core. On the forward side, returnees Turcotte, Zegras, Kaliyev, Brink, and Caulfield lead the way for the Americans. Caulfield scored twice in a tune up versus the Finns just days before. Knight of course is the guy between the pipes.
Starting the game, it immediately became clear that the US was in for a battle as they went over 11 minutes without a shot in the first period. The US was able to tie the game off of Captain York’s point shot, it was a pretty poor goal by Askarov’s standard. The Americans kept the Russians in check for the first period. The 2nd period was a little different, Russia completely took it to the Americans scoring 3 unanswered goals in the span of 9 minutes. Goal 2 was a breakaway that captain York was puck watching a beautiful 100 foot pass. Goal 3 was a poor turnover by Sanderson attempting to pass to forward, Berard, who seemingly didn’t recognize a pass coming directly his way. Finally, goal 4 spelled the end of Knight’s evening after a brutal giveaway to Russia, scoring on a wide open cage.
The Americans were able to make a game of it in the 3rd period however. Scoring 2 more goals to make it a close game at 4-3 with goals by Zegras and Farinacci. There was a lot to like about the Americans’ third period, as they showed fight. The defence seemed to improve as well, making themselves less of an easy target when it came to offensive opportunities. However the Americans weren’t able to mount the comeback as Russia scored an empty netter late in the third. Russian forward Vasili Ponomaryov scored 2 for Russia and was named the team’s best player. On the American side, it was captain Cam York, who really may not have even been the team’s best defenceman at the end of the eve.
Overall, it wasn’t a great game for the Americans. Their stars at forward weren’t very noticeable which could be a bit of a concern as this is what happened in the tournament last year. They’ll need all the returnees to step up because Caulfield and Turcotte were almost invisible last night aside from some solid scoring chances from both. At the 2020 World Juniors, Zegras was the US’ best forward scoring 9 points and he’ll need to recreate that again.
Knight as a whole needs to be better than what he showed tonight; bringing his game back to basics and take out unnecessary risks of overly playing the puck. We saw flashes of brilliance from Sanderson offensively and defensively, but he too is going to be relied upon heavily and will need to shake off those jitters. Faber, Helleson, and Johnson also had decent showings, but decent doesn’t win gold medals. Don’t be surprised if they shake up the lineup and insert hulking D-man Tyler Kleven to add a little bite to the back blueline.
The USA will look to rebound against the Austrians on the 26th, which should be an unfortunate steamrolling. It will improve the confidence of a lot of the guys as the tournament rolls on, they’ll need to be mentally tough to face teams as the Americans’ pool is one of the hardest in years.
Photo Credit – @USAHockey Twitter