The United States failed to establish a rhythm and play to its identity during a 1-0 loss against Finland at Werk Arena in Trinec, Czech Republic, in the quarterfinals of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship on Thursday, general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said.
The United States averaged 4.25 goals in four games in the preliminary round. It had 30 shots on goal Thursday and was 0-for-2 on the power play.
"It's a disappointment based on the fact we thought we were one of the better teams in the tournament," Vanbiesbrouck said. "We didn't play to our identity, took too many penalties and couldn't score a goal, couldn't muster much. We're disappointed, but a lot of the guys sacrificed and gave their all and a lot of times that doesn't show up on the scoreboard because we're asking them to play good, sound defense, too.
"Finland is a smart team and we give them credit. They play well in tournament play, they play to their identity."
The United States was shorthanded for six minutes during the first period, including a high-sticking double-minor on forward Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings). It stayed out of the penalty box and had 12 shots in the second, but a penalty for hooking by forward Jack Drury (Carolina Hurricanes) at 3:34 of the third period led to the game's only goal, a one-timer from the slot for a power-play goal by Finland forward Joonas Oden at 4:23.
After a tournament-opening 6-4 loss to Canada on Dec. 26, the United States won 6-3 against Germany, 3-1 against Russia and 4-3 in overtime against the Czech Republic to conclude round-robin play on a positive note.
"It's a bitter taste since we lost to Finland (3-2 in the 2019 WJC final)," Vanbiesbrouck said. "I think when we go into these tournaments, we expect to have success, so it's bitterly disappointing. But you also have to look at the type of game we play and what we have. I think that's a yearly thing and don't think you can just say, 'Hey, this is who we are,' and we can play this brand.
"I think that our coaching staff did a fantastic job trying to use guys in their best situations, but it didn't work out."
There were several positive developments for the United States. Forward Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) leads the tournament with nine assists which is tied for the fourth-most by a United States player at the tournament (Bobby Crawford, 1978; Alfie Turcotte, 1984; Mike Modano, 1989; Pat Peake, 1993); the record is 14 set by Doug Weight in 1991.
Forwards Shane Pinto (Ottawa Senators) and Arthur Kaliyev (Kings) tied for the United States lead with four goals. Pinto had seven points (four goals, three assists), second on the team to Zegras, and established himself as a top-line center.
The best three players of the tournament for the United States, as selected by the staff, were Zegras, Pinto, and goalie Spencer Knight (Florida Panthers).
Knight had two wins, a 2.49 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in four games.
"I thought [Knight] played well all the way through," Vanbiesbrouck said. "The opening game (against Canada) was a tough assignment, but by the same token, you're playing against the best players and I thought he made some very good saves in that game as well.
"Sometimes you need to outscore your coverage a little bit, but Canada got the break there at the end of the game. Spencer is a solid player, person, and he played terrifically."