If you want proof the United States can win the World Cup of Hockey, look no further than their first pre-tournament game against Canada. Specifically, look at the first period.
Canada opened the game with 12 of the first 13 shots on goal. In the final eight minutes of the period, the United States turned the tide, outshooting Canada 17-2, and taking a 2-0 lead in the process.
Yes, it was just an exhibition, and one the Americans approached with greater intensity than their Canadian counterparts. Yes, the United States was outshot 28-7 over the game’s final 40 minutes in one of the most extreme examples of score effects that I can remember. And yes, it was just eight minutes.
But those eight minutes were particularly telling. In that stretch, the United States showed that they are capable of balancing physicality with strong puck possession. This shouldn’t be a one-off, as all but four players (Kyle Palmieri, James Van Riemsdyk, Jack Johnson, and Justin Abdelkader) have seen their teams post worse possession numbers with them on the ice than off of it. Despite the head-scratching omissions of Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel, and Keith Yandle, among others, the roster has players capable of possessing the puck, and they’ve shown they can do so. There’s still plenty of scoring, too, with three of the top 10 goal scorers over the last three seasons (2-Joe Pavelski, 6-Max Pacioretty, 8-Patrick Kane), the highest mark of any country other than Canada.
John Torotrella’s system will never be confused with Mike Babcock’s, so there will be stretches where the U.S. is playing without the puck. That’s generally not a sustainable strategy in the modern game, and when it works, it’s because of incredible goaltending. Tortorella’s Rangers had Henrik Lundqvist, and made the playoffs four out of five years. His Canucks and Blue Jackets didn’t and don’t, and he hasn’t made the playoffs in his subsequent stops.
With Jonathan Quick named as the Americans’ starter in net, the U.S. has a goalie capable of filling the Lundqvist role. His whole body of work shows he isn’t as sure of a bet as Cory Schneider, who boasts a higher career even strength save percentage than Quick. But, as Sharks fans know all too well, Quick has shown he is capable of otherworldly form between the pipes when it matters most. After allowing just two goals on 53 shots at even strength, Quick looks ready to carry the United States’ World Cup hopes on his shoulders when needed.
We’ve seen where the plan can go awry, as the Americans were outshot 23-15 in their second exhibition game against Canada and accumulated 28 PIMs. The United States will need to stay disciplined, and find the right balance of physicality without chasing the puck the whole game. If Quick maintains his level of play from the exhibition games, they have a goalie that can mask their puck possession shortcomings. But, with plenty of strong possession players despite the big names missing from the roster, they are capable of controlling play against the tournament’s best teams.
They’ve showed what that would look like for eight minutes. Now, they need to do it for seven games.