Share this article

print logo

Points to ponder in wake of Team North America loss

TORONTO -- On the drama scale, nothing has touched Team North America-Russia so far in this World Cup and you'd be hard-pressed to think any group play game could approach what we saw Monday night in Air Canada Centre.

Team Russia held on for a 4-3 win only after a frantic Team North America power play failed to produce the tying goal in the final 40 seconds. Johnny Gaudreau just missed an open net from the edge of the crease and Shayne Gostisbehere clanked a drive off the goalpost as Russia survived a game in which it was outshot, 46-25.

And while Team North America had a particularly strong third period in which had a 19-4 bulge on the shot clock, it couldn't overcome going haywire in the middle of the second period. Russia burned Matt Murray for four goals on four straight shots in a span of 6 minutes, 14 seconds in a surge that was oddly reminiscent of its five-goal third period blitz of Canada in the gold medal game of the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

"I thought we looked unsure out there for the first time as a team," Team North America coach Todd McLellan said. "When you're a group of young players, you're looking for somebody just to take charge and settle it down, maybe get a shift or two under your belt. We didn't get that quick enough in all positions: goaltending, defense and forwards."

That detour has now thrown the tournament standings into a tizzy.

Team North America and Russia are tied at 1-1 with Sweden leading the group at 1-0 and Finland 0-1. That means there would be a four-way tie with one game to play if Finland beats the Swedes today in regulation. Canada (1-0) will be trying to match Team Europe at 2-0 with a win tonight over Team USA. Team Czech Republic is 0-1-1 and win-or-bust Team USA (0-1) will be making its last stand on enemy soil.

There were so many subplots to this one that it was a hard game to get a good grasp on during its immediate aftermath. Some random thoughts:

The McDavid breakway: A turning point to the game came about 5 1/2 minutes into the second period when Connor McDavid burst in alone but seemed to get a little too close to the net and was stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky to prevent Team North America from taking a 2-0 lead. The save seemed to energize the Russians and was a catalyst for their four-goal outburst.

"Every moment, every shot I was focused," Bobrovsky said. "And that was the most important shot of my life."

McDavid was frustrated by his inability to convert on that chance and by his team's failed power play.

"We had so many chances, off the post, one over the net there, off the goalie laying in the crease," McDavid said. "Our power play has to get better, myself included in that for sure. That 5-on-3 late in the game, that's when we need to be able to do something. We definitely let the team down there."

Eichel's impact: Sabres center Jack Eichel was a victim of Team North America's short bench in the game, playing just 7:56 of even strength time and 14:02 overall (McDavid, by contrast, was at 13:44/21:04 and Auston Matthews was at 14:14/20:57). Eichel got lost some because linemate Dylan Larkin was used for just 5:33 and the duo of Jonathan Drouin (9:59) and Brandon Saad (11:34) also had limited time.

Eichel was a minus-2 in the game although one came on a freak deflection off the glass that saw a puck go right to Nikita Kucherov for the Russians' second goal. Eichel also took a pair of crunching hits, one from behind by Alexey Marchenko and the other a stiff one up high from Montreal's Alexei Emelin.

Team North America goaltending: Murray let in a bad third goal to Evgeni Kuznetsov and simply didn't give his team a key save during the rough stretch. McLellan said afterward Murray is dealing with a jammed thumb so it bears watching if Team North America goes to John Gibson for its game Wednesday against Sweden.

On today's docket: Team Canada has its morning skate at 10 a.m. followed by Team USA at 11. Team North America will practice at 1 p.m. at Ricoh Coliseum, home of the AHL's Marlies, and a huge storyline will be the injury suffered by Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

McLellan said after Monday's game that Ekblad is simply day to day with an upper body injury, although you have to wonder about his status because of an ESPN report that he had a concussion; Ekblad, 20, has already suffered two in his career as he heads into the first season of his eight-year contract extension he signed with the Panthers.

Ekblad played more than 23 minutes against Finland and the Team North America defense struggled mightily without him at times against Russia. Replacement Jacob Trouba had a decent game in Ekblad's place but the pair of Columbus' Seth Jones and Ryan Murray was particularly weak with the puck at times.

There are no comments - be the first to comment