Through about 50 minutes of game play, the United States was on their way to their worst loss at the World Juniors in over a decade as they trailed Sweden 4-0. Instead, an insane rally set off by a pair of power play goals and a pair of extra attacker goals in the final minute of regulation put Sweden’s historic 46-game winning streak in the preliminary rounds of the WJCs in serious jeopardy.
The Swedes were able to prevail with a goal in the 3-on-3 overtime to salvage their streak, but the US walked away from what looked like an ugly game with some positive momentum as they look forward to their final prelim round game against Finland on New Year’s Eve.
My thoughts on the loss:
-Jack Hughes sat out for a second straight game with an injury. Said injury remains undisclosed, but reading between the lines, doesn’t seem major. The gist of pregame comments from head coach Mike Hastings was that Hughes probably could have played if the US absolutely had to win this game, but with it still being the preliminary round, winning against Sweden was still more luxury than necessity.
-That said, we’re starting to get to the point where these games matter. The US got an extra point for going to overtime, but with results going to chalk so far, it doesn’t really matter. Unless Kazakhstan pulls off the upset of upsets by beating Sweden in regulation, which they won’t, it won’t matter. The Swedes will finish first in this group. That means the New Year’s Eve game against Finland will be for second place in the group, which could end up being very valuable. With Canada and Russia looking like they will finish 1-2 in the other group, and the Czech Republic performing below expectations to this point, there is going to be a big bonus to finish second and getting the easier quarterfinal match-up. A loss to Finland and the US will need to beat Canada or Russia just to make the medal round.
-I’m not sure what to make of last night’s furious comeback. It does highlight how fun this tournament can be though. The combination of so much skill on the ice with the relative immaturity of the players involved can lead to those types of meltdowns late in games that make for exciting finishes. It was a shame the US couldn’t fully complete the comeback, but it was a fun game to watch.
-I really like the way Quinn Hughes is playing in this tournament. He’s doing the things the US needs him to do. It was nice to see him finally get rewarded for it when he set up Ryan Poehling for the first extra attacker goal. Hughes had four or five great set-ups by maneuvering around on the blue line and creating passing lanes for scoring chances that didn’t quite connect. Most of the offense the US generated prior to their explosion at the end came as a result of Hughes doing Hughes stuff. He did have the one awful turnover that led to a Sweden goal in the second period. But that stuff will happen when you’re asking one player to do that much. I don’t mind a guy making one bad play if he’s going to make five good ones to go along with it. He’s carrying a defensive group that needs a lot of carrying.
-Beyond Hughes and Mikey Anderson, the defensive group has largely been a disappointment. K’Andre Miller had a really rough game, looking terrible on two goals against. He seems to be out of place in terms of role on this team. If he’s not going to get a chance to contribute on the power play, I’m not really sure why he’s on this team. Mattias Samuelsson’s defensive contribution on Erik Brannstrom’s fourth goal for Sweden was embarrassing as well. It’s going to be a very short bench in the medal round.
-I loved the way Sasha Chmelevski played last night. He’s using his speed really well on the wing, and did a great job at getting pucks to the net when the US was really struggling to do that. He was rewarded with a couple assists and nearly had the game-winner in overtime. Combining him with Ryan Poehling, who continues to be a beast all over the ice is a really nice line for the US, and hopefully something they can build off of going forward.
-Kyle Keyser was pretty strong in goal for a game where he gave up five goals. As I mentioned above, goals are going to be scored in this tournament. Keyser should probably get the start against Finland.