As 2017 came to a close, so did the WJC group stage. The USA and Canada both finished on a high note, clinching first and second in Group A respectively, but one team did it a bit more decisively than the other.
You could note that Denmark is a much easier opponent than Finland. You could also note that despite the up-and-down flow of the game, the USA managed to score one goal more against Finland than Canada did in their opening matchup. But now we’re off to the quarterfinals, where all that matters is how you play the game from here.
Before it begins, some thoughts on how they did in their last games of group play.
Canada versus Denmark
One thing on Canada’s mind going into this game was getting their discipline issue under control. Aside from two back-to-back penalties in the second period (which were likely discussed in the ensuing intermission), they appeared to succeed. Overall this was a good response game from the Canadians—finishing a game they were always going to win 8-0 and doing several things well along the way.
There were a few concerning moments. The first 10-15 minutes of the first period, they just looked bored. I understand it’s difficult to get up for a game against Denmark, and letting them hang around isn’t as detrimental as letting a team like, say, the USA hang around, but that’s a great opportunity to develop poor habits that could rear their head later.
After that stretch, though, they seemed to shake it off. Players up and down the lineup contributed offensively, which is a great sign for the team’s scoring depth moving forward. Aside from the initial stretch of malaise, I didn’t really have any complaints.
Victor Mete was held out of the third period against Denmark and wasn’t at today’s practice, but according to Ducharme, he still “should play” in their quarterfinal game. Ducharme said Mete’s injury occurred against the USA, which means the third period benching was due to managing his minutes, not an in-game injury. I’m sure many people have also noticed Dante Fabbro’s minutes being reduced when Canada is in a favorable position to do so, but he’s allegedly doing okay. Still, it’s a situation to keep an eye on.
And also potentially a reason to play Cale Makar more, but hey, what do I know?
USA versus Finland
Joe Woll started the game, and I honestly had my doubts when I saw the announcement. He wasn’t bad overall, though—I think I saw one goal of the four that really had me laying the blame at his feet. I would’ve preferred seeing Oettinger more than once (and not just outdoors) during the group stage, but what’s done is done and Woll is the clear starter in the eyes of the coaching staff.
I mentioned Canada had one lackadaisical stretch in their final game. The USA had several. Finland is a deeper and more talented team that Denmark, but remember how I mentioned bad habits? Letting a team like Finland hang around will literally always come back to bite you. It did for the USA, as Finland continued to chip away at their lead until the game was tied 4-4 late in the third.
The coaching staff didn’t take a timeout or make a goalie change, prompting the broadcast to talk about this “display of trust” in the team leaders and in Woll. Frankly, I think it was more along the lines of “you made this mess, you get yourselves out of it”—but at its core that’s basically the same message phrased differently. And they did, on an Adam Fox goal that literally made me yell out loud.
There were good takeaways from this game, despite the sheer frustration of the stretches where the team sat back and allowed Finland to control the pace of the game. Captain Joey Anderson scored twice, and played a strong game overall—something the coaching staff wanted to see from him. Adam Fox was terrific, making smart defensive plays but jumping into the rush at opportune moments. Special teams were pretty good overall (although less time on penalty kill would be a good idea).
So, as it stands, the key thing for the USA to carry forward: stop taking your foot off the gas when you get a lead.