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USA (3), Germany (0)

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
MYTISCHI, Russia – Behind the shutout netminding of John Grahame and the three-point performance of Paul Stastny, Team USA won a key game here on Saturday, taking a 3-0 decision over a resurgent Team Germany in a qualifying round game at Mytischi Arena.


“[Germany] is extremely competitive,” said Team USA head coach Mike Sullivan. “They’re very difficult to play against and they’ve given some of the top teams in the tournament so far very difficult games and we’re no different. They do a terrific job defending in their own end.

“They really make it hard on your trying to carry the puck through the neutral zone. We realized going into that game that was going to be important for us; to make sure that we made the right decisions with the puck in the critical areas of the rink, most specifically the neutral zone. I thought our players did an extremely good job of staying with our game plan. The patience that they showed with the puck in the offensive zone and through the neutral zone was important for us to come out with the victory.”

Stastny got Team USA started early in the game, netting a power play strike at the 2:33 mark of the first period. Tyler Arnason and Erik Cole collected helpers on the goal.

“It was a nice power play,” said Stastny. “We kept moving it around and moving it around. Finally, [Cole] was in the slot and I was coming across. He shot it hard along the ice for me to tip it in. It was a nice play.”

Stastny’s shot was one of only five Team USA managed in the first. Germany totaled nine on Grahame. The Americans successfully killed off three straight penalties after Stastny’s goal.

The two teams traded power play chances in the second period, and Stastny netted his second goal of the game at 35:26, just after the conclusion of a Team USA power play, converting a nice feed from Cole.

“We kept working,” said Stastny. “I gave it to [Cole] and he fed me in front. I got my rebound. It was a bad angle, but it went by the goalie and went in.”

Team USA went shorthanded almost immediately afterwards when Brian Pothier went off for roughing. Grahame made two nice saves and Team USA defenseman Keith Ballard broke up a cross-ice pass to key the kill.

Early in the third period, Team USA removed whatever drama may have been left in the game. Stastny and Cole again did some heavy lifting, working the puck around down low before setting up Lee Stempniak in front for a 3-0 Team USA lead.

Grahame and his teammates killed off three more German power plays on their way to shutting down a German team that had authored a surprising 2-0 win over the Czechs in its previous tournament game on Thursday.

The victory sets up a potentially terrific match-up between Team USA and Canada on Monday night in the final match of the qualifying round. That game is likely to determine the top seed in Group F going into the quarterfinal round, which begins on Wednesday. Saturday’s win over Germany clinched a spot in the quarterfinals for the Americans, regardless of the outcome of Monday’s match with Canada.

NOTEBOOK
Captain Crunched: Caps and Team USA captain Chris Clark absorbed a hard hip-check into the boards late in the second period. He skated off under his own power, but appeared to do so gingerly. He did not return to the game and was not on the bench in the third period. Team USA appeared to have the game well in hand at that point and did not want to risk further injury to its captain.

After the game, Sullivan hesitated when asked if Clark would be able to play on Sunday if the Americans had a game then. Team USA is next in action here on Monday against Team Canada.

Face-Off Whiz: Clark entered Saturday’s tournament action with the second best face-off win rate of any player in the tournament. He won 29 of 40 draws (72.5%) in the first four games of the tourney.

Clark trails only his Washington teammate Jiri Novotny in face-off proficiency. The Czech Republic’s Novotny won 30 of 39 (76.92) face-offs in his first four games at the Worlds this spring.

Blank Stare: At 31, Grahame is the oldest member of the Team USA squad. On Saturday, he accomplished something he did not do in 28 NHL games with the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006-07 season. He pitched a shutout.

Grahame’s previous shutout came on Feb. 4, 2006 and it came at the Capitals’ expense. He whitewashed Washington 5-0 at The St. Pete Times Forum while a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in that game.

With Saturday’s shutout win over Germany, Grahame has now fashioned a 1.81 goals against average and has stopped 92.17% of the shots he has faced in the tournament.

Gold-Bricking: At the conclusion of each game in the tournament, the best player from each team in each game is presented with a gold brick from an Austrian bank. We learned today that the bricks’ value are estimated at $750 (Cdn.).

CAPS’s THREE STARS:

1.    Stastny – Two goals and three points, including the game-winner. This kid is special and he is a joy to watch every time he is on the ice. He has good hockey sense (wonder where that came from?) and is always making something happening.

2.    Team USA defense – The whole group was great, but we especially took note of Matt Greene, Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts in this contest. It’s worth noting that Pothier is doing a great job of mentoring these young bucks, too.

3.    Grahame – He wasn’t tested often, but he came up big when he had to, namely when the lead was still very slim and his mates took a succession of penalties.

Honorable Mention: As one of my esteemed colleagues noted tonight, 19-year-old Phil Kessel seems right at home here on the larger ice surface. It’s no wonder when you consider this tournament already marks the fifth time he has represented his country in international play. Cole had a terrific game, too. He and Clark are doing for the forwards what Pothier is doing for the Team USA defense.

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