Team USA advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championship with a resounding 9-3 win over Slovakia on Monday. Johnny Gaudreau and Vince Trocheck scored two goals apiece, while Jimmy Vesey contributed three assists. Alex Galchenyuk, J.T. Miller and Jake McCabe all had multipoint games as well. Slovakia tied the game at 1-1 just 14 seconds after Cole Bardreau opened the scoring, but the U.S. scored the next four goals to take control of the game. Jacob Trouba scored his fourth goal of the tournament, while Mike Reilly scored his first. John Gibson made 26 saves in the win.
What I saw
-Gaudreau and Trocheck got off the schneid in a big way. They were expected to be two of Team USA’s top scorers before the tournament, but neither of them had a single point entering Monday’s game. They each posted three points against Slovakia and looked dangerous in the offensive zone all game. Both were able to make plays down low and find open space around the net. Gaudreau and Trocheck, who aren’t on the same line 5-on-5, hooked up for two power-play goals. Trocheck picked up the second assist on a highlight-reel goal by Gaudreau, then Gaudreau made a nice pass from below the goal line to find Trocheck in the slot.
-Vesey has seen more and more ice time as the tournament has gone on, and on Monday, coach Phil Housley put him on the top line with Gaudreau and Miller. Vesey embraced the bigger role and played an outstanding game. He made a great pass to McCabe to set up Team USA’s second goal. He set up Shayne Gostisbehere for a point shot that led to a Gaudreau goal. Then he poked a loose puck to Reilly on the Americans’ fourth goal. Vesey has made the most of his ice time all tournament, and Monday’s performance should earn him a spot in the top six for the quarterfinals. Not bad for a guy who was scratched in the final exhibition and appeared to be on the verge of getting cut.
-After struggling mightily against Canada on the power play, the U.S. scored four power-play goals against Slovakia and generated quality chances all game. The Americans’ first power-play goal came when Galchenyuk set up Sean Kuraly for a shot that led to an easy tap-in for Trouba. Team USA’s next two goals also came on the man advantage, with Gaudreau and Trocheck doing the honors. Galchenyuk closed out the scoring with a power-play goal on a nice setup by Connor Murphy.
What I thought
-The U.S. did a much better job getting bodies to the net and creating chaos around the crease. The Americans put up a lot of shots against Russia and Canada, but the combination of running into two hot goalies and not getting enough traffic resulted in just one goal in each of those games. Slovakia’s two goalies certainly weren’t anywhere near as good as Andrei Makarov or Malcolm Subban, but the Americans’ offensive outburst on Monday had more to do with what they did better than what the opponent did worse.
-Perhaps the only negative from Monday’s game was that Team USA’s tournament-long discipline issues were still present. Gostisbehere got ejected in the first period for a stupid spear behind the play, and Slovakia scored on the ensuing power play to cut the lead to 5-2. Then the Americans gave Slovakia two extended 5-on-3s in the second period, marking the second straight game they’ve given their opponent two 5-on-3s in the same period. Now that they’ve reached the single-elimination stage, avoiding penalty trouble will be even more important. The U.S. has yet to prove that it can do that.
-Although the Americans finished third in their group, this team should absolutely be considered a gold medal contender. Their two losses came against Canada and Russia, and both were one-goal games that could’ve easily gone the other way with a better net-front presence or one less defensive mistake. Team USA’s quarterfinal opponent will likely be the Czech Republic — a good team to be sure, but one the U.S. appears to be better than on paper. Given that the U.S. has already played Russia and Canada pretty evenly, there really isn’t anyone they should fear. The Americans certainly aren’t the favorites to win gold, but they aren’t Miracle-on-Ice level underdogs either.
What else you should know
-Rocco Grimaldi was dropped from the top line to the 13th forward role and didn’t play a single shift on Monday. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Twitter that Grimaldi was “in Team USA doghouse big time” and that his benching was “performance/attitude related.”
-As of 8:30 a.m., Finland and Sweden were tied 3-3. If Finland loses or wins by one goal, the U.S. gets the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. If Finland wins by two goals, the U.S. gets Finland. If Finland wins by three or four goals, the U.S. gets Sweden.
Update: Sweden beat Finland 7-4, so the U.S. will in fact play the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.