The US dropped their final preliminary round game to Canada by a final score of 5-3, with Canada scoring a pair of empty-net goals. The US got a magnificent performance from goalie Thatcher Demko to stay in the game, and overall, had a pretty strong defensive effort. But in a continuing theme for the US this tournament, the offense was nowhere to be found for most of the game, as they managed just a single goal on the power play in the first 57 minutes of the game until Dylan Larkin scored two late goals to make the final score closer.
Here are my thoughts, notes, and analysis from the loss:
-Canada tried to be very physically aggressive right from the opening face-off and push the US around. I thought that for the most part, the US did a good job of handling that heavy pressure. There have certainly been years when the US either backed down after being physically challenged by Canada like that, or didn't handle it well. That didn't feel like the case here.
But they were never quite able to take advantage of how aggressive Canada was on the forecheck with their counterattack. There were a lot of turnovers by wingers along the boards as they couldn't make breakout passes, and a lot of offensive opportunities off the rush where the US just couldn't make a skill play to do something with the puck. This was a team built to protect a two-goal lead by chipping pucks out of their own zone. The problem is, they haven't been able to build that lead in the first place.
There are no guarantees that a smaller, more skilled line-up would have handled that physicality any better. But in a game where the US needed somebody to make a skilled offensive play, they just didn't have the personnel to do it. That's frustrating because it's not like the US didn't have options that they could have brought to the tournament.
-Dylan Larkin's two late goals made the offensive effort look not as bad as it actually was. But the US spent too much of the game in their own zone, defending heavy pressure from Canada. Canada's goals in the second period felt like an inevitability. The US wasn't able to sustain much pressure in the Canada to take pressure off Demko.
-The third goal was controversial, with Curtis Lazar definitely making contact with Demko to force the puck into the net. I was a little surprised the goal stood, but those kind of things are going to happen when a team is buzzing around the offensive zone all night. They'll get lucky bounces and breaks like that. I struggle to think of a time any US forward even got close enough to Comrie to interfere with him. That's why people make such a big deal out of possession. Keep the puck in the other team's zone and good things are going to happen.
-Thatcher Demko played a phenomenal game to keep things as close as they were. He looked confident and aggressive, without being too aggressive. If he plays like that in the medal rounds, the US should have a very good chance against anyone.
-I was a bit slower than everyone else to the Noah Hanifin bandwagon, but sign me up now. He played a tremendous game for the US. He was excellent in his own end at winning puck battles and moving the puck quickly and efficiently. He should have had an assist in the second period on a nice play he made to enter the zone and fire a cross-ice pass that Alex Tuch couldn't quite get away. If anything, I'd let to see him have a little more freedom to try to create things offensively because the forwards are having a tough time doing it on their own.
-Meanwhile, Zach Werenski has looked very much like a 17-year-old playing in this tournament. I've been surprised at how much he's struggled in the defensive zone this tournament. He got beat on the third Canada goal when he got caught with a bad gap one-on-one. It probably shouldn't hurt his draft stock too much. That type of performance is more than norm for 17-year-olds in this tournament. But after pushing for the top 10 in the Draft in the first half of the season, he'll probably drop a few spots after this tournament.
-Jack Eichel was a bit of a disappointment for the US again. It has just seemed like the pressure of the tournament and all the focus that has been put on him has gotten to him. Everything feels a little too forced, and he hasn't been that effective. He did manage the one power play assist, but otherwise, the US needed him to create more offense, and he just wasn't that effective. His best scoring chance came in the first minute of the game when he had a lot of net to shoot at and he wasn't able to convert. That was a goal that would have really changed the complexion of the game.
-The result of this game ended up being huge for both teams. The US ended up on a side of the bracket with Russia and then the winner of Sweden, who ran through their group, and Finland who played the US to a hard-fought tie. Canada, meanwhile, gets Denmark and then the winner of the battle of Czechoslovakia. One of those is much more appealing than the other.
-Don't be fooled by Russia's terrible results in the preliminary round. They are a team with enough talent to win the tournament if they show up and give a full effort. They didn't always do that in the preliminary round, but they definitely will against the United States.