So that happened. I said on Saturday morning that I expected the United States to lose against Canada, but the US came away with an impressive 4-2 victory for their first prelim round victory over Canada since 1998.
A few thoughts on the win:
-That was pretty much the game the United States wanted to play. I said in my pre-tournament keys, it was important for the US to make this game as short as possible and up the potential variance. That's what they did by playing a scoreless first period, keeping the game low-scoring, and having the game decided by who got the good bounce late in the game. Today, it was the US who got that bounce by sneaking a couple pucks from the point through the defense in the third period that made the difference.
-Key number two heading into the tournament was scoring the first goal and playing with the lead. They didn't do that, but Colin White's second period goal to tie the game at 1-1 after forty minutes was a game changer. The game had a much different complexion heading into the third period tied at one rather than the US trailing.
-Key number three was a game-changing performance from the starting goalie. Alex Nedeljkovic got the call in goal today and he did what the US needed him to do. It wasn't a stand-on-his-head performance for the ages or anything, but he made some big saves when he needed to, and was a big reason the US was able to hang around long enough to win the game in the third period. I'd still like to see Brandon Halverson get some playing time in the preliminary round. If nothing else, give him some time late in the prelim round against Switzerland or Denmark, so he's potentially ready if needed in the medal round. But it's a positive sign that Nedeljkovic looks ready to go.
-Another key for the US was for Auston Matthews to be a star player. He was quiet early, but by the end of the night, he had a goal and assist. If Matthews scores two points every game in this tournament, the US is definitely a medal team.
-Alex DeBrincat owes one to the US penalty kill for keeping him from the pantheon of US World Juniors goats such as Emerson Etem and Eric Tangradi with his high stick in the first period. Losing DeBrincat made the decision to leave skilled forwards like Kyle Connor, Alex Tuch, Jeremy Braco, etc., etc. look even sillier. Brock Boeser filled in well on the first line, but the depth beyond that got even uglier once DeBrincat went out. There's still a possibility that DeBrincat draws a suspension for the next game against Sweden.
-Winning the Canada game puts the United States in a good position going forward. Getting three points over Canada, along with Switzerland's apparent decision to murder Sweden's top players one by one earlier today, puts the US in strong position to finish first in their group. In the other group, Russia did their usual of playing poorly in the prelim round, going to a shootout with the Czech Republic, but did win the shootout to take two points. After the last two seasons, avoiding Russia in the quarterfinal round would be nice, and today's results look like that is going to happen.
-Canada did not look good today, but I doubt this will be the last we hear from them in this tournament. I know a lot of people didn't like the idea of opening the tournament with Canada rather than playing a New Year's Eve game, but I think that really helped the United States today. I'd expect more offense once their team gels together a little more, and Mackenzie Blackwood, who was suspense for today's game, is probably an upgrade in goal over Mason McDonald.