American fans couldn’t have asked for a better start to the World Junior Championship, as Team USA steamrolled Germany 8-0 to open group play. It took the U.S. just 19 seconds to get on the board. Alex Galchenyuk chipped a puck to Riley Barber in the neutral zone, Barber sent Sean Kuraly in alone, and Kuraly finished with a backhander through Marvin Cupper’s five-hole. The U.S. made it 2-0 eight minutes later when Blake Pietila picked a defender’s pocket and fed Jacob Trouba for a point shot through traffic.
The Galchenyuk-Kuraly-Barber line struck again 1:24 after that when Galchenyuk circled off the boards and beat Cupper with a beautiful shot into the top right corner. That line did it again 14 seconds into the second period when Galchenyuk forced a turnover and found Barber alone in front. From there, the rout was on. Shayne Gostisbehere made it 5-0 with a one-timer on the power play, and Ryan Hartman pushed it to 6-0 when he buried a Pietila rebound. J.T. Miller scored the seventh goal off a turnover and Seth Jones scored the eighth with a nice shot from the high slot. John Gibson made 19 saves and Jon Gillies made seven in the combined shutout.
What I saw
-Coach Phil Housley put Galchenyuk, Kuraly and Barber back together after splitting them up for the exhibition game against Finland, and the move paid huge dividends. Kuraly looked great at the summer evaluation camp, but his struggles at Miami raised questions about where he’d fit on this team. He certainly fit well with Galchenyuk and Barber on Thursday. That line terrorized Germany’s defense all game long and scored three of the Americans’ first four goals. Galchenyuk earned player of the game honors and showed why he was the third overall pick this summer.
-Despite already leading 4-0, it took the U.S. four tries before scoring on the power play. That certainly wasn’t because of a lack of chances, though. The Americans moved the puck well on their first three power plays and had quality chances on all of them, but they just didn’t finish. That changed on the fourth when Gostisbehere blasted a one-timer through a great screen by Miller. The U.S. won’t have nearly as much time and space against their next two opponents (Russia and Canada), but they can still be encouraged by the chances they created even if 1-for-5 doesn’t jump off the page.
-Three of Team USA’s goals came from defensemen. With questions about the Americans’ depth up front, they’re going to need contributions from the blue line, and Thursday was certainly a good start in that aspect. The goals from Trouba and Gostisbehere came because there was traffic in front and they were able to get their shot on net, although Gostisbehere’s was such a rocket that it may have gone in even without a screen. Jones scored by walking in a few steps before picking his spot. Those three were good in the offensive zone all game, and Mike Reilly and Jake McCabe jumped into a few rushes as well.
What I thought
-That was about as dominant of a performance as anyone could’ve expected. It’s hard to get too excited about anything that happens in a game against Germany, but the U.S. did a lot of things well on Thursday. They went hard on the forecheck, they got bodies to the net, they set up good cycles, and they were able to get out of their end quickly. Russia and Canada will obviously be much tougher opponents, but the Americans should have a good chance against them if they play like they did Thursday. In fact, the U.S. looked better in its first game than either Canada or Russia did. Canada beat Germany 9-3, but had a few hiccups along the way. Russia outplayed Slovakia, but needed overtime to get the win.
-The line of Pietila, Hartman and Cole Bardreau continues to impress at both ends of the ice. They’ve been billed as the checking line and have taken to calling themselves the Grind Line, but they showed some offensive skills on Thursday as well, just like they did in the exhibition game against Sweden. On Trouba’s goal, it was Pietila who made the steal and Bardreau who set the screen. Hartman’s goal came on a 2-on-0 with Pietila. The trio did plenty of grinding, too, as Pietila and Bardreau worked on the top penalty-killing unit. Hartman also drew two penalties.
-Gibson wasn’t tested a ton, but he looked very good when he was. He made a couple nice saves on Germany’s first power play of the game, then stood on his head during an extended 5-on-3 in the second. He showed some great lateral movement and was forced to make some reactionary saves on tipped shots and rebounds. Gillies gave Gibson a breather in the third and, like Gibson, had to make some big saves on an extended 5-on-3. The U.S. will obviously have to do a better job staying out of the box moving forward, but it was nice to see that Gibson and Gillies were both up to the challenge.
What else you should know
-The U.S. only dressed 19 skaters, as the staff has still not decided whether Matt Grzelcyk or Patrick Sieloff will fill the final roster spot.
-Team USA’s next game is against Russia on Friday at 9 a.m. ET.