The United States gets a shot at redemption Thursday when it plays Canada in the semifinal round of the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
The anticipated match-up pitting the North American rivals is scheduled for 4 a.m. ET at Ufa Arena (NHLN-US, TSN). The survivor will meet the winner of the other semifinal later in the day featuring defending gold medalist Sweden and Russia. The Russians will be looking to avenge a 1-0 overtime loss to Sweden in the 2012 WJC final.
The gold-medal game will be held Saturday at 6 AM MT (NHLN-US, TSN).
The United States suffered a 2-1 loss to Canada in preliminary-round action of Group B pool play on Sunday. Canada then earned an automatic bye into the semifinal round by beating Russia 4-1 on Monday.
The United States needed a 9-3 victory against Slovakia on New Year's Eve to advance to the quarterfinals of the medal round -- where it routed the Czech Republic 7-0 on Wednesday to earn the rematch with Canada.
Not only does the United States have the best power play at the WJC, with a 36.4 percent efficiency (12 of 33), but the team is also leading the tournament with the highest penalty-killing percentage at 91.3 percent. In 23 times shorthanded, the United States has allowed just two goals.
The U.S. power play has accounted for nine goals in the last two games, including five in the triumph over the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
"I think we initially want to establish our shot and everything opens up after that [on the power play]," U.S. coach Phil Housley told NHL.com. "We've got some very good players of vision that can see players get open and any time you can get pucks to the net and convert on them, you're getting those second opportunities.
"I also feel the fact our defencemen our getting shots through is a key. A lot of teams have blocked shots very well, so we can't just shoot pucks into the zone. We have to find a way to get pucks on the net from up top. We've been doing that, and it's been allowing some down-low play at the net."
The teams are similar when it comes to offensive production: Canada has averaged 5.25 goals in four games; the U.S. has averaged 5.2 in five games.
"I think each game we've played, we've improved," Housley said. "Even in our losses [2-1 to both Russia and Canada], I thought we were getting better as a team. Against Slovakia we broke out in the scoring column and on the power play and against the Czechs we got the early goal which is important. But there are areas that need improving if we're going to move forward against Canada."
The United States has been led by defenceman Jacob Trouba, who has a team-leading four goals and is tied for the team lead with eight points. Alex Galchenyuk also has eight points (two goals, six assists). Defenceman Seth Jones has one goal and seven points for the Americans.
"I don't think we need to change much against Canada [on Thursday]," Jones told NHL.com. "We just need more bodies in front of [goaltender Malcolm] Subban. We might not have gotten as much traffic as we really wanted to in the first game, and he saw a lot more pucks than we wanted him to see."
In the earlier meeting with Canada, the United States had pulled to within 2-1 midway through the third period before being whistled for five straight penalties, including hit-to-the-head infractions to captain Jake McCabe and forward Ryan Hartman. Those penalties killed any momentum the Americans might have had and enabled the Canadians to seal the deal.
Jones was asked if there's any advantage to playing the Canadians after having seen them already.
"I don't think it matters too much, but we know exactly how they play," Jones said. "I think both teams play a very similar style. We like to go North-South and work the defense down low. They're a good team and we'll have to counter with our best effort."
It isn't too much of a surprise to see Canada's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leading all tournament scorers with 11 points, including three goals. Jonathan Huberdeau is second on the team with seven points (two goals, five assists).
The heart and soul of the American roster is goalie John Gibson. The second-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2011 is 3-2 with a 1.51 goals-against average and .950 save percentage. Gibson notched his first full game shutout of the tournament on Wednesday in a 31-save effort against the Czechs.
"John is a competitor," Housley said. "He's in there and he's fighting on every shot. It's pretty obvious he's been a huge part of our team and he's covering up some mistakes and making momentum saves for us. We certainly are not where we are without him."
Canada coach Steve Spott has relied exclusively on Boston Bruins prospect Malcolm Subban between the pipes -- Subban's superb 36-save performance against the United States in the preliminary round seemed to ignite his game to greater heights in this tournament. He's unbeaten in four appearances and sports a 2.00 GAA and .930 save percentage.
"Canada plays an extremely good game and they've got some guys that can finish and we understand that," Housley said. "We can't turn the puck over in key areas of the ice because of their transition game -- they have good puck-moving defencemen. We've had that net presence in front of Subban and he's getting better as the tournament has moved forward. He's a big reason why they're undefeated in four games, so we have to get rebounds and second-chance opportunities."
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer