Going through the worst of a dreadful international showing
The United States’ first two games in the World Cup of Hockey simply could not have gone any worse.
They were outscored 7-1 in six periods of hockey. More than that, they barely had any competitive moments in the two games against Canada and Europe.
Now, their closing game against the Czech Republic is just about pride, rather than knockout round placement.
The US was out-skated and outscored from the time the puck dropped against the much-maligned European team and were beaten even worse than the 3-0 final score indicated. For an encoure, they played about five minutes of competitive hockey against Canada, taking the lead for less than two minutes before being reminded who the kings of this sport are.
With such a disastrous showing, there’s more than enough blame to go around. So, allow me to spread some of it. These are my three anti-stars of the US’ two meaningful World Cup of Hockey games, the ones whose shoulders should buckle most severely under the burden.
Third Anti-Star: Jonathan Quick, goaltender
Statline: 0-2, 44 saves, 7 goals allowed, .863 save percentage
NHL world, we need to have a talk about Jonathan Quick. I’m sure he’s a nice young man and a hard worker, and he’s had a career he can take plenty of pride in. But, he’s not a top goalie in the NHL anymore, he may never have been, and he showed it these past few games.
No, Quick was not the team’s biggest problem (more on that in a moment), and that’s why he gets the third star. But the fact is, he did not help the US team, and really should not be considered among the NHL’s elite any longer.
He didn’t give up any super-soft goals during the tournament, but also failed to impress. He really didn’t come up with a big save at any point during the 120 minutes he spent on the ice. And, I think he shoulders some of the blame for the Corey Perry goal, and probably the John Tavares goal as well (shouts to JT for a sweet deke and drive towards the net, though).
The US defense was much maligned during the team’s selection process and on through the tournament itself, and deservedly so (that’s called foreshadowing). But Quick did not do much to bail them out, which is what the best goaltender in the country is supposed to do.
I did not think Quick was among the best in the NHL last year, and I don’t think he should have been nominated for the Vezina.
I think he benefits from playing behind a very good possession hockey team that is among the best in the NHL and includes both one of the best defensive forwards and best defensive defensemen in the NHL.
There are several NHL goalies I’d rank ahead of him, including Cory Schneider, and several I’d say are just about equal, all things considered, including Ben Bishop. Both sat in wait while Quick watched two losses unfold in front of (and directly behind) him.
Schneider should have gotten a chance in this tournament, and I wouldn’t have argued with Bishop being put in over Quick, either.
Second Anti-Star: Ryan Kesler, center
-2, 0 pts, 4 shots, 4 penalty minutes
There were plenty of problems with the US offensive core, but I’m going to focus on Kesler here.
He was especially deserving of some shade for his performance in the tournament’s opener. He took a pair of key penalties and posted a -1 in the game, and seemed completely out of it throughout the contest.
He was all but invisible in the game against Canada (to be fair, most of the team was after that initial burst), posting another -1. He got significant time on the ice during the powerplay and with veterans like Zach Parise, and failed to make a positive impact at all.
Kesler was supposed to be the poster boy for what the US was trying to build, a team of tough players who also knew how to put the puck in the net. Instead, he was the perfect example of what went wrong with the team.
This is a non-sequitur, and you probably haven’t seen it, but Kesler was featured on ESPN’s coverage hosting a cringeworthy take-off on Zach Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.
The sad part was, he performed even worse on the ice.
First Anti-Star: Brian Burke, president, Dean Lombardi, general manager, and John Tortorella, coach (along with the rest of the front office)
0-2, infinite bad decisions
This won’t be a unique or surprising pick, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong one.
The problems with this team were not limited to goalie selection and a bad session from a prominent center, despite the fact that their play stood out for all the wrong reasons. As frustrated as I was by Quick and Kesler, they were not the reasons for these losses.
The problems with Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey begin and end with the construction of the team.
The USA bucked the trend when building its roster. It eschewed the strategy of giants like Canada, not building a team around speed and scoring skill, and instead deciding to lean on gritty players that could deliver some checks and score dirty goals. Those players would force skill players on other, more scoring-focused rosters to play a style of game they were not comfortable with it.
In two full games, six periods, 120 minutes, Grit was outscored by Skill, 7-2 (with one goal coming off a Canadian stick), and the team that was designed specifically to beat Canada was a laughing stock against their continental foes.
There’s no shortage of holes to poke in the construction of this team. The inclusion of wingers like Justin Abdelkader over Phil Kessel, even given his injury, is mind boggling. Those in charge of choosing the US delegation in Toronto have been called out for a number of misfires, including Kessel, the Islanders’ Nick Leddy, the Lightning’s Tyler Johnson, the Blues’ Kevin Shattenkirk, among many other snubs. There’s probably even more than that.
It’s tough not to think all those who criticized (including yours truly) may have been right.
Tortorella has shouldered much of the blame in this, and as the head coach, that’s probably fair. He’s known for a particular style of hockey, one that’s been described as “tough,” “gritty” and, most importantly, “ineffective.”
But, as friend of ChinMusicPod and Newsday hockey writer Arthur Staple reminds us, a team is not built on Torts alone:
Brian Burke, president of the Calgary Flames, and Dean Lombardi, president and GM of the Los Angeles Kings, the president and GM of USA Hockey, respectively, deserve blame here too.
The two of them, along with Tortorella, undoubtedly collaborated closely to build this team, one that was thoroughly outclassed in Toronto.
There’s plenty of blame to go around after a performance like that. But those three should carry the largest shares.
Follow Brendan Murray at @MurraySportTalk for more
PS-KESSEL FROM THE CLOUDS, this is why he is my boy.