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Starman: Inability to pressure Canadians leads to loss

by Dave Starman

In its third game of the World Junior Championship, the United States lost 2-1 to Canada. That gives them a 1-2 mark in Group B Pool play with a huge game Monday against the Slovaks that will determine the Americans' fate in the 2013 WJC. The Americans never led in the game Sunday and have not held the lead in their past two games since an 8-0 tournament-opening rout of Germany.

NHL Network Analyst Dave Starman, who was the game analyst for the past four WJC's for NHL Network, takes a look at this recent USA-Canada clash. He has called five of these North American rivalry games at the WJC and saw some things different from recent games.

What Happened: I think a couple of things. The first is that the United States never had any consistent middle-lane drive to cause Canada's defense to engage from a bad position. The second is that the ability of the Americans to chance of the rush was consistently hampered by Canada's attention to detail on the back check. Transition from offense to defense is vital and backchecking through the middle is its biggest component. Canada did both well and, in essence, eliminated the American defense from being a big factor as a second wave.

Goalies were the story here. John Gibson deserved a better fate and was probably the best player on the ice for the United States. Of the two goals he gave up, one was an NHL-style goal, a high, hard wrister from a prime scoring area off a quick release by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The other was a back-door tip of a jam play from behind. Malcom Subban allowed his first third-period goal of the tourney on a power-play goal by Jacob Trouba, who has been the best American defenseman in the tourney for the second straight year. He has goals in all three games of this tournament.

Penalties hurt the United States. The American penalty kill was solid, plus Gibson gave the team every chance to win.

What went right: Let's start with the penalty kill. Cole Bardreau, Blake Pietila, Vince Trocheck, Tyler Biggs and Ryan Hartman were all solid up front, the defense did a nice job tying up sticks in front and Gibson was terrific. The United States got pucks to the net and now have gone past double digits in shots in all nine periods played at the WJC. Jacob Trouba was much better today, more in control and being efficiently effective. The American forecheck was a weapon early and proved all game that it could set up offense. The team won some key faceoffs especially on special teams. Bardreau stood out as a guy who wants the puck, will go get it, get there first and win 50/50 pucks.

What was a good sign is, that despite being down early, the Americans stuck to the game plan and kept going forward. While not being effective in areas they wanted to be in, they didn't fold. Their PK gave them the momentum and confidence other areas didn't.

What went wrong: The top-six forwards were invisible. Francis Gary Powers was more visible when he was captured over Siberia by the USSR during the Cold War then this group has been the past two games. Inability to score on a double minor midway through the second period to alleviate some pressure on the defense corps would have been a huge help. The Americans were not a factor near the net and JT Miller needs to be a force there.

When your bottom-six out-plays your top-six, generally you lost. That was the case today. The defense corps not being a consistent threat on the rush was to me the missing ingredient in the game. Lack of finish hurt, but you need to get to the tough areas to make that finish be more visible. This game showed, as did the Russia game, that to win big games you need to go to hard areas and play harder than your opponent. The Americans didn't do that.

I thought Canada owned the slot on both ends and played without much fear of paying a price. I felt the United States established a forecheck presence, but couldn't find a reward for doing so. Subban was a part of that.

Star of the game: Gibson, Trouba, and Bardreau were all really good. Seth Jones had his issues but also made some good plays. The United States had 37 shots with Trouba and Jones combining for 11. Five American defensemen combined for 15 shots. Trouba had six by himself, matching the output of Gadreau, Grimaldi and Miller combined. The star of the game goes to Gibson, Trouba a close second.

Sleeper of the game: Going in two directions here. The first is Bardreau, who did so many little things to help the cause. The second was the penalty kill, directed by assistant coach Mark Osiecki. The PK has been great this tourney; coaching and goaltending have been a big part of that.

What's next: The only game that now matters comes against the Slovaks.

"We control our own destiny," said Osiecki in an email chat we had after the game. "We can make it happen and not have to watch somebody else help us."

That is a huge emotional factor for the United States now as they face a win-and-in scenario for the medal round. No what-if scenarios needed. In the other pool, the defending champs from Sweden have been good. The Finns, Swiss and Czech's have all been OK. Get into the playoffs and anything can happen in the No. 3 vs. No. 2 cross-over game. For the Americans, the worst might be behind them if they can win and get to the first cross-over. Two of the bigger beasts in the tourney are in the rear-view for at least a few days in that scenario.

As referenced in a previous story, I felt Canada was a do-or-die game for the United States for a few reasons. They are now in a win-or-go-home game and those can get tricky. They haven't scored, so confidence has to be shaken. In two big games, the big players from the opposition have played better than the American stars. Do the Americans think they can get a big goal when they need one? The answer to that question is the key that unlocks the medal round.

Notes: This game was absent some of the nastiness of the past few US-Canada games. It looked more like the semi-final game in Buffalo in 2011 then the games played in '09, '10, and bore some resemblance to the game last year in Edmonton. That one left the feeling that if the Americans had another 30 seconds they'd have tied the game 3-3. This one left you feeling another 30 seconds it could have been 2-2.

The United States has not beaten Canada in the prelim round of the WJC since '99 in Winnipeg. The past two U.S. wins against Canada have been in gold-medal games ('04 under Mike Eaves and '10 under Dean Blais).

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