WJC POSTGAME: USA vs LATVIA

Boxing day is the real Christmas for a lot of us, because it marks the return of the World Junior Championship. If you’re Canadian, it’s all encompassing. Family dinners are scheduled around it, you’re talking weeks in advance about the advantage for your team on the smaller ice and you’re all imaging how quickly it would all be over if the Canadian’s had all their NHL talent on the team still. If you’re American you’re pretending like it’s not that big a deal unless you finish ahead of Canada, then you were on board the entire time and knew they had it in them. 

Regardless of where you stand, USA managed to start their tournament off right with their 9th consecutive opening day win against a gritty Latvian team.

FIRST PERIOD

A slow start to be sure. Anyone who tuned in late would have been surprised to watch the frame end an even 1-1. Not that USA didn’t get their looks, but this was supposed to be a gimme for the American’s yet the Latvian’s weren’t sitting back. Patrick Harper put the American’s on the board early:

But a late one by the Latvian’s had the American’s heading to the room to regroup after this Krastenburgs breakaway. Happy 18th birthday, kid:

SECOND PERIOD

USA managed to piece together a more consistent effort in the second. Latvia spent most of the period running around and failing to cleanly enter the zone. The strategy was clear here, no use in playing skill vs. skill for Latvia, they were going hard and trying to get the American’s involved in any shenanigans after the whistle. USA kept their cool though and played their game. Puck possession, good movement and crisp passes managed to pay off twice in the second. First, Ottawa Senator prospect Colin White put the American’s in front with this lazer:

Later in the frame, with a tired group on the ice, the USA Hockey development program all-time leading scorer and Coyotes prospect Clayton Keller extended the lead to two:

THIRD PERIOD

More running around and more bad penalties for the Latvian’s left them scrambling. These tournaments can be relentless because goal differential can be such a huge factor in advancing from the initial rounds. USA was not ready to let up. Keller’s second goal of the game just perfectly displays the disparity between the two teams. A hard forecheck, an excellent turnover generated and just a perfectly placed shot:

By the time the game was over, the American’s found themselves with a decisive 6-1 victory. 

USA might have had a slow start but it was coming together by the third period. If they want to be successful in this tournament though, they need to improve a power-play that went 1/4 vs. the Latvians. If they are going to get passed the Swedes, Russians and Canadians, that aspect will have to become more dangerous. 

Their zone entries and exits are good but that Latvian team exposed some holes and weak points in that lineup. Specifically, Fitzgerald on defence and Greenway on the wing. If you’re looking to recreate the DeBrincat misconduct of last year and get under the skin, those are your targets. The American’s are stacked with playmakers but rely on a small group of trigger guys. That might turn into a tactical advantage for a team like the Swedes who can smother individual players while line matching. 

Regardless, excellent start for the American’s and they look like they’re going to be a real force this year.