The United States eked out an ugly 2-1 win over Slovakia to open up their 2019 World Juniors campaign. It wasn’t the prettiest effort. After a scoreless first period, the US fell behind 1-0, but got a pair of third period goals from captain Mikey Anderson and Evan Barratt and were able to hold on for the victory.
The US is off on Thursday and then will have their easiest game of the tournament on Friday against Kazakhstan.
Here are some quick observations from the first game:
-The US very much looked like a team playing their first game of the tournament. They didn’t look like a team that was ready to beat Canada, but then again, they didn’t need to beat Canada last night. They didn’t even really need to beat Slovakia, unless you believe they’re going to lose to Kazakhstan. The number one goal for last night’s game was just to get through it and get settled into the tournament, which it seems they did. They’ll need better efforts later in the tournament, but for now, they were fine.
-There were a couple big positives last night for the United States. The first was that Kyle Keyser got the start in goal and I thought he looked really comfortable. The positive, if you want to call it that, of a fairly pedestrian effort on the part of the US skaters most of the night, is that Keyser was called upon to make more big saves than most assumed he would need to. He made some big saves, and looked really steady and poised on the easy ones.
I’d still like to get the other two goalies into the net in the preliminaries(Cayden Primeau is expected to start on Friday), but so far, I wouldn’t panic if Keyser is starting in net in the quarterfinals.
-The other big positive is that I thought the two best forwards for the US were Jason Robertson and Evan Barratt. Those were two guys that I identified before the tournament as potential secondary scorers for the United States in this tournament, and they looked like they could live up to that hope last night.
Jack Hughes and Oliver Wahlstrom are going to get their points. But to win in a tournament like this, you need solid secondary scoring to fill in the gaps when those big guns aren’t scoring. That was the case last night with Barratt scoring a big game-winning goal. If they can keep up that play, that eases a lot of my concerns about the US offense.
-RE: The two penalty shots called in this game.
The one given to Jason Robertson was a weird one. Robertson is attacked the defender 1-on-1, beats him, and gets hooked. I’ve never seen a penalty shot called in a situation like that where the defenseman isn’t really facing the net.
The second penalty shot, which was given to Slovakia, was also a little soft if you’re looking at it in a vacuum, but after the first one was called, that call becomes a no-doubter.
That said, I like the idea of awarding a penalty shot on anything borderline. Penalty shots are one of the most exciting plays in hockey, and I don’t like giving the benefit of the doubt to a player that is committing an infraction to stop a quality scoring chance.
-The US defense was mostly fine, and it’s not like it’s going to change now, but the problem with bringing primarily defensive defenseman like Phil Kemp and Mattias Samuelsson that aren’t going to contribute much offensively is that they have to be near-perfect defensively to justify being out there, and I don’t think either approached that standard last night.