It was a bad movie that the United States didn't want to see twice in three days.
After playing a relatively sound game against Russia and struggling to find the back of the net, a similar storyline unfolded in a pivotal preliminary game today with Canada. Team USA got the fast start it needed and generated offensive chances, but was stymied by Malcom Subban who was terrific in net for the Canadians.
Canada picked up a 2-1 win in Ufa that guarantees a spot in the medal round, while the U.S. finds itself in a "do or die" scenario tomorrow against Slovakia. A win over the Slovaks sends Team USA to the medal round and avoiding the relegation bracket, which would be devastating after putting three strong games together (to this point).
Jacob Trouba scored the lone goal for Team USA on the power play in the third period, a goal that cut Canada's lead to one and energized the American bench. The U.S. had to kill of a full two-minute 5-on-3 in the closing five minutes, but got a power play of its own with 1:36 left, the goaltender pulled, and a prime chance to tie the game.
Subban was excellent as Team USA put on its best push. Seth Jones, Trouba and Alex Galchenyuk were firing pucks toward the net but couldn't get one across the goal line.
The Americans opened with a series of strong shifts that got Canada backing up inside its own end, but Subban was there to melt down any opportunities and allow his teammates to get going the other direction. As the first period progressed, you got the feeling that the team to score first would firmly grasp the momentum -- and Canada did.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Canadian captain for this World Junior, found himself in the high slot with all kinds of time and no Americans in the vicinity. He took one step toward the hashmarks and ripped a shot past John Gibson's stick side, giving Canada a 1-0 lead seven minutes into the game.
Another U.S. breakdown in the defensive zone allowed Ryan Strome to get free in front of John Gibson and poke in a centering pass for a 2-0 lead. While Team USA had put a good period together, their two biggest mistakes ended up in the back of the net.
"It's unfortunate they caught us on those two mistakes," U.S. head coach Phil Housley told Rob Simpson of NHL Network. "I give our team a lot of credit...they battled til the end. Our guys sucked it up and did a great job penalty killing to put us in the position to tie it up.
"We have to regroup now and get ready to go tomorrow. If we played like we did the last two games, I'm really excited about tomorrow."
Housley wasn't a fan of the late-game officiating that gave a two-man advantage to the Canadians in a one-goal contest, but admitted there's nothing his team can do about it. They have to learn to play within the bounds of what's called, he said, and put their best effort forward tomorrow against Slovakia.
"I think some of the calls are questionable, personally," Housley said.
Some post-game notes:
-- There was a notable absence of Galchenyuk, especially in the third period when the U.S. needed a goal to get back in the game. Though some of the American skill players didn't have the best start, you have to wonder if giving more ice time to a player as talented as Galchenyuk is your best option for offense, and not the other way around.
-- Rough game for Seth Jones, but hey, he's human. He forced a lot of things all over the ice and had some poor puck luck, as well, making for an awkward all-around game. Wouldn't surprise me in the least if he bounces back strong against Slovakia.
-- Really liked Mike Reilly's game today. He started with Jones and eventually shifted to a pairing with Columbus product Connor Murphy, where he looked a lot more comfortable. With a stay-at-home guy like Murphy next to him, it could free Reilly up to take more chances on the rush.
-- Gibson and Subban were rightly honored as the players of the game, and Gibson was absolutely terrific when his team needed him. When the Americans trailed 2-0 late in the first period, Mark Scheifele found himself alone at the top of the crease, and he tried to go under the crossbar but Gibson made perhaps his finest save of the game. If it goes 3-0 at that point of the game, we're talking a whole different story.
-- Good push for Team USA at the end, but really, it probably didn't need to come to that. Much like the game against Russia, the U.S. generated plenty of chances but couldn't quite bear down and make Subban sweat a little bit.