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Quick Starts, Byfuglien up Front for Team USA

For its final pre-tournament tuneup, Team USA goes with Jonathan Quick in goal and moves Dustin Byfuglien from the blueline to the wing

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

Hours from now at Verizon Center, Team USA will take on Team Finland in the final pre-tournament exhibition game for both teams in the run-up to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Here are some notes and nuggets related to tonight's game.

Hours from now at Verizon Center, Team USA will take on Team Finland in the final pre-tournament exhibition game for both teams in the run-up to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Here are some notes and nuggets related to tonight's game.

Quick Study - Jonathan Quick gets the start in goal for Team USA, and Pekka Rinne provides the opposition in the crease at the other end of the ice. According to Team USA coach John Tortorella, Quick is the likely starter for the Americans when the tournament starts on Saturday in Toronto. 

"I think Jonny Quick has an inside track on that," says Tortorella. "That's why I'm going to play him again tonight. But in the tournament, I thought about it all summer. With the three goalies we have, it's a very tough decision. But I think within the play so far within the tournament, I think Quicker deserves another start here and has the inside track on being the No. 1 guy." 

Quick was brilliant in the early minutes of the first exhibition game against Team Canada, giving Team USA a chance to get its offense on track and eventually prevail over a Canadian team seen by most as the favorite to win the tournament. 

Ben Bishop will serve as Quick's backup tonight while Cory Schneider will sit this one out and watch from upstairs.

Buff Wild Wing - Dustin Byfuglien is a bit of a secret weapon for Team USA. Capable of playing forward and defense, he has settled in mainly on the backline in recent seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. But at Monday's Verizon Center practice, Tortorella and his staff had Byfuglien skating on a forward line with David Backes and Justin Abdelkader. 

"I want to see him there and then also, we want to look at the six [defensemen] - the three pairs we have - tonight," says Tortorella. "We're still trying to make some decisions on where people fit, and in our mind we always felt Buff was kind of a wild card moving between two different positions. So we'll see."

That move leaves Brandon Dubinsky and Kyle Palmieri as the healthy extras for tonight's game, and means that Matt Niskanen will draw back into the Team USA lineup after sitting as a healthy extra in the most recent game, a 5-2 loss to Canada on Saturday in Ottawa.

At Monday's practice, Niskanen skated with Ryan McDonagh, John Carlson was paired with Ryan Suter and Erik and Jack Johnson formed the third duo, a Johnson & Johnson pairing. 

Gotcha - Carlson scored a five-on-three power-play goal in Saturday's loss to Canada, victimizing Washington teammate Braden Holtby in the process.

"It was fun," acknowledges Carlson. "I was giving him some lip about it the day before when I saw him. So it was nice to cash in when I got the chance. I have one on him now, so that's pretty cool."

After yesterday's practice at Verizon, Niskanen was asked a generic question about whether any of the opponents in this tournament feel different to play against than they do as members of their respective NHL clubs. 

"Uh, yeah," came the response. "I was in the stands [Saturday] night, but I was fist-pumping when Carly scored on Holts. I don't know what's going to happen with Holts, if he is going to play at all in the tournament, but I hope he gets a shot. But especially in that exhibition game, it's kind of nice to see your fellow countryman score on him. 

"We'll hold that over his head for the whole year, probably. But you really focus on the group that you're with at the time. Everybody here feels like they have a great deal of pride in wearing the colors and playing for something. It's a huge opportunity. I don't think anyone takes it lightly. You put your NHL buddies and friendships aside or a couple weeks and go after them, and hopefully beat them. You don't want to hurt anybody, thinking long term, but you can't think about it really. Just play the game hard and try to beat everyone." 

While the Carlson goal is a point of pride for both Niskanen and its author, it was also impressive from an Xs and Os standpoint. After playing catch a bit from his spot on the right point, Carlson worked a bit of a give and go with Patrick Kane, and then found a soft spot over on the left side, near where Alex Ovechkin has pumped home so many goals for the Capitals over the last several years on the man advantage.

"Just something that we always talk about here [in Washington] and with this team, too," notes Carlson. "[Team Canada] was playing with one forward high, and they were taking away most of the low plays. Depending on the top forward's depth, there is some room to be had out there.

"We exposed that on the first play over to Joe [Pavelski]. He missed the net, I think. So I just tried to drag that guy out as far as I could, and went back to [Kane]. On that play, I think it was [Byfuglien]. Buff comes around the top, and that top forward has got to honor that shot from the middle of the ice. I dragged him out a little bit to get some room underneath." 

Facing The Finns - After taking on Team Canada in each of their first two World Cup exhibitions, the Americans will get a look at Finland tonight.

"I think it will be similar," says Kane. "Finland has always been a team that has played similar to Americans. We've noticed that ever since we were young kids playing them in tournaments when we were 16, 17 years old. They've always tried to play that way; they're still trying to play that way. 

"They have some skilled guys over there that can score and it seems like their power play is doing pretty well. For us, when we get in those situations, clear up our special teams a little bit and at five-on-five, dictate our pace of play no matter who we're playing." 
 

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