Team USA closed out preliminary round play at the Women’s World U18s early Wednesday morning with a 2-0 victory over Sweden. With the win, Team USA finished first in Group A, which earns them a bye to the semifinals, where they will meet the winner of Sweden and Finland in the quarterfinals.
A few thoughts on today’s win over Sweden:
-Don’t be mistaken by the close final score. The US controlled the puck and had about 80% offensive zone time. The first goal of the game came 1:06 into a delayed penalty. For Sweden, there was a lot of this:
That’s just something Team USA will have to deal with. But for what it’s worth, it never felt like the US was ever in any real danger in this game. They’re clearly a much stronger team that Sweden.
-The forward line changes Team USA made in the third period against Canada stuck for this game with Abbey Murphy moving to the top line and Hannah Bilka moving to the second line. Not only is the first line more effective loaded up like that, I really think Bilka has been more effective on the second line where she has been freed up to use her skating ability a little more.
-The other line-up move I’ve loved—though this one has been all tournament—has been Lacey Eden at third line center. Eden has a bit of a niche skillset, but she’s really good within that niche. She’s done a great job supporting pucks and winning battles along the wall, and has done a great job getting to the front of the net and creating havoc with her size, which created a big goal against Russia, and a big goal against Sweden.
I said before the tournament that the coaching staff would probably be scrutinized a little closer because this is the first year without Joel Johnson, but so far, they seem to have pulled all the right strings.
-It will be interesting to see what Sweden does in goal going forward. Timra Holm started the first two games of the tournament and was just okay. Amanda Johansson started against the US and was really good. She’s a big goalie that didn’t give much in the way of rebounds. It should probably be her net for the quarterfinals.
-As you’d expect from a team that isn’t the US or Canada, Sweden’s depth didn’t impress me much, but the top of their line-up with pretty good. Top line center Josefin Bouveng is really impressive. A big, strong forward that is exceptional on face-offs. Her top line wing Lina Ljungblom is the other forward to watch for Sweden. The top D pair of Vendela Olsson and Nathalie Lidman was solid too.
-The biggest area the US will need to clean up heading into the medal rounds will be their power play, which hasn’t quite clicked yet in this tournament. There’s a lot of puck movement, but it’s all station-to-station around the perimeter rather than attacking with passes across the middle of the ice. It’s been too easy defend.
-The US PK was tested, killing off about a minute of 5x3 in the second period with the game still 0-0. They did catch a bit of a break in that the first unit Swedish unit started the first power play, so the second unit—and there’s a clear drop-off talent there—got almost all of the 5-on-3. Skylar Vetter wasn’t tested much in this game, but she did make a couple big saves on that PK which kept the game from being more tense than it needed be.