One of several areas the United States National Junior Team has certainly excelled at during the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship has been specialty teams.
That theme continued Sunday in an 8-0 victory against Germany at the Malmo Isstadion in Sweden.
The United States broke open the game with four power-play goals in the second to take a 6-0 lead. U.S. coach Don Lucia acknowledged that his team is beginning to gain "traction" on specialty teams.
"We have a lot of different pieces we can use on [the power play]," Lucia told NHL.com. "[Assistant coach Greg Brown] has control and he's coaching them up. We have defensemen who can make some plays and three units going. We've been a plus in every game so far on specialty teams and that goes a long way in helping you win games."
The United States, in fact, has only given up one even-strength goal in the tournament.
The Americans, who finished 6-for-10 with the man advantage against Germany, held a 22-4 shot advantage in the second when their opponent was assessed 33 penalty minutes. The United States held a 53-15 advantage in shots for the game.
The Americans will close out preliminary round pool play in Group A against rival Canada on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. ET (NHLN-US, NHL.com). Canada plays Slovakia in its third game of the preliminary round on Monday at 11:30 a.m. The quarterfinal round of the WJC commences Thursday with the top four teams in each group in action.
The U.S. leads the Group A pool with three victories and nine points.
Against Germany, forward Vincent Hinostroza (Chicago Blackhawks) had two goals and two assists, and defenseman Matthew Grzelcyk (Boston Bruins) had a goal and two assists. Hudson Fasching (Los Angeles Kings), who scored a goal in the first period, was named the team's player of the game.
"Special teams are a huge part of this kind of tournament, and [Sunday] we showed how strong we are on the power play and on the penalty kill," U.S. forward Nicolas Kerdiles told NHL.com. "We have a lot of momentum and confidence and we want that to translate into our game against Canada. Right now things are going well and we're excited to have Canada coming up."
Goalie Anthony Stolarz (Philadelphia Flyers), who was making his first appearance in the tournament after serving as the backup to Jon Gillies in the previous two games, finished with 15 saves to earn the shutout.
"He did a good job; he didn't have to make a lot of saves but a couple of good ones when we needed them and he was in control," Lucia said. "He didn't look nervous at all. We wanted to make sure we got him some action in this tournament."
Gillies (2-0, 2.00 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) is the likely starter against Canada on Tuesday.
Stolarz was called upon to make a few big stops early in the first period when the Americans were forced to kill a 5-on-3 power play for the Germans.
German top-line center Leon Draisaitl, an A-rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's December players to watch list for the 2014 NHL Draft, was given a game misconduct and five-minute major for hitting Andrew Copp (Winnipeg Jets) from behind just 10 seconds into the second to start the offensive barrage.
Just 1:32 after Draisaitl's penalty, Sven Ziegler was whistled for hooking, giving the United States a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. Butcher gave the Americans a 3-0 lead when he took a pass from 17-year-old Jack Eichel at the top of the right circle and ripped a shot home at 2:21. During the continuation of the five-minute major, Hinostroza scored from the left faceoff dot at 3:27.
U.S. captain Riley Barber (Washington Capitals) extended the lead to 5-0 when he scored his third of the tournament from the left faceoff dot on the man advantage at 11:46 before Grzelcyk scored his second of the tournament on another 5-on-3 advantage off a rocket from between the circles at 13:57.
Defenseman Steven Santini (New Jersey Devils) tipped home a point blast by Grzelcyk for another power-play goal 10:04 into the third to give the United States a 7-0 lead. Hinostroza then connected for his second of the game at 13:46 on an even-strength goal to close out the scoring for the Americans.
During its gold medal-winning run in the 2013 WJC in Ufa, Russia, the United States excelled on the penalty kill, finishing with the highest percentage (.892); yielding three power-play goals in 28 times shorthanded.
This year, the team is leading the entire 10-team field with 11 power-play goals. In the early stages of the first, the U.S. was forced to kill a 5-on-3 German advantage for 1:23 when Kerdiles (Anaheim Ducks) was whistled for hooking at 1:06 and a too many men on the ice penalty was assessed at 1:43.
"You don't want to give a team like Germany any belief early on, and we took the penalty and didn't communicate well on the bench and were assessed the too many men on the ice," Lucia said. "But I thought our forwards and defense did a good job getting in shot lanes and blocking shots and we got the momentum going."
U.S. penalty killers Santini, Brady Skjei (New York Rangers), Copp, Thomas DiPauli (Washington Capitals) and goalie Stolarz did a fantastic job clearing pucks and blocking shots. Stolarz finished with six saves in the first. The momentum built after killing off those penalties led to the opening two goals of the game by Fasching and Kerdiles. Copp has two assists and finished with a 76 percent efficiency on faceoffs (13 of 17).
"You wish you could take back that penalty since it put us in trouble, but we had great killers out there," Kerdiles said. "The guys fed off of that and throughout the rest of the game."
Fasching took a pass from Copp in the high slot between the circles and ripped an attempt into the top corner of the cage for an even-strength goal at 8:09. The U.S. then scored its first power-play goal of the match when Kerdiles collected a feed from Hinostroza and roofed an attempt at the right post at 11:56.
SWEDEN 10, NORWAY 0
Andre Burakovsky, a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals last June, scored three goals and Marcus Hogberg made 13 saves in preliminary round play of the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship at Malmo Arena in Sweden.
The victory moves unbeaten Sweden into first place in the Group B pool with three victories and nine points. Russia will play Finland on Monday with a chance to win its third game and equal Sweden with nine points. Host Sweden and Russia will play New Year's Eve at 8 a.m. ET.
Sebastian Collberg (Montreal Canadiens), Gustav Olofsson (Minnesota Wild), Robert Hagg (Philadelphia Flyers), Robin Norell (Chicago Blackhawks), Alexander Wennberg (Columbus Blue Jackets), Elias Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes) and Nick Sorensen (Anaheim Ducks) also scored for Sweden, which has outscored the opposition, 19-5. Russia holds an 18-1 scoring advantage over the competition through two games.
Sweden opened a 3-0 lead in the first on goals by Olofsson at 3:26, and a pair of power-play goals by Burakowsky at 8:55 and 15:42. Hogberg (Ottawa Senators) was kept busy in the second when he was called upon to make 10 of his 13 saves in the game.