Team North America and Team Europe played each other last night, in their second of three tune-up matches for the World Cup of Hockey. While Team North America was the better team, both teams look like they may struggle against the top teams in the tournament, but for different reasons.
Team North America:
If you haven’t been paying attention, Team North America is made up of players from the US and Canada who are under 23 years old. You’ve likely heard of all or nearly all of these players, as most of them are considered stars or future stars.
Team NA is loaded with offensive firepower. On a team with Matthews, MacKinnon, McDavid, and more, Johnny Gaudreau has been just as, if not more dangerous than those three. On his second goal of the night, he proved that Millennials really do ruin everything as he set fire to the theory that Luca Sbisa is a solid NHL defenseman.
This tournament has also thus far been Aaron Ekblad’s chance to show a wider audience that he is a special defenseman. He scored two goals in the first period, and was a dominant force for Team NA all night.
Dylan Larkin slotted in on a line with Vincent Trocheck and Sean Couturier after not playing the first game. Larkin scored two goals, a beautiful goal in the first period, in which he ripped a bouncing puck by Thomas Greiss, and an empty netter to seal the NA win. Outside of those two plays, he wasn’t as noticeable as Wings fans would like, but part of that is due to less ice time than he’s used to. He played well enough to be in the lineup when the tournament starts, but he, like almost every player in the tournament so far, can play better. Here’s his goal:
Dylan Larkin makes it 2-0 for North America pic.twitter.com/uJyfltuaZD— Kyle M. (@KyleWIIM) September 11, 2016
While the youngsters exploded for a five goal first period, they took their foot off the pedal, and nearly paid for it. Their breakouts were quick and utilized their players speed and skill, but they couldn’t keep up their initial pace for the entire game.
Their defensive positioning was not as good as it will need to be to compete with teams like Canada and Sweden, but they should be able to improve that in time for the games that count.
On skill, they should trounce a team like Team USA, but we haven’t seen how they will handle the physical aspect other teams will bring. Both North America and Europe barely threw any checks, which is a major contrast to seeing the US and Canada play on Saturday night.
While not having as much talent as most teams, Team Europe still has some top NHL players. For example, Tomas Tatar played with Anze Kopitar and Mats Zuccarello last night. But they are rightly considered a major underdog to get to the semifinals.
Team Europe could have rolled over and died after getting their doors blown off in the first period, but they didn’t. Some of that can be attributed to their opponents not playing as well, but the Eight Nation Army finally adapted to the Millennial non-stop attack.
Marion Gaborik and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare were their most effective offensive players, and new Red Wings Frans Nielsen and Tomas Vanek contributed offensively. Neilsen’s goal was a typical Frans goal, he found an opening right down the middle and swooped in for an easy goal.
#RedWings newcomer Frans Nielsen scores to make it 5-4 for Team Europe pic.twitter.com/ckoIYetfFj— Kyle M. (@KyleWIIM) September 12, 2016
I know laws in Europe are not the same, but I was still surprised to see the team let the corpses of Zdeno Chara and Mark Streit suit up. For players whose prime was as dominant as theirs, it’s hard to watch them play now. Add Sbisa to that defensive pair, and they are a huge anchor on their team’s chances of success.
Team Europe also has to overcome a thinner roster than the tournament’s top teams. While they have some top NHL players, their lineup does not strike fear in the heart of their opponents like a line of McDavid, Eichel, and Gaudreau does.
Team Europe will be a major underdog to get out of their group, and if my life depended on them winning a semifinal matchup, I would start picking out my burial suit.
Team North America should have a better chance to get to the semis than they do, since the tournament organizers set the groups to favor Team US and Team Canada. The young guns have to finish ahead of two of Finland, Russia, and Sweden to make it out of their group.
If they can play more of a three period game than we saw last night, while handling the physical play they will surely see once the tournament starts for real, we could see a Team NA - Team Canada semifinal, which would be highly entertaining.
Here are the remaining pre-tournament games before the real play starts on Saturday:
Tuesday, September 13
Team Finland vs. Team USA - Verizon Center; Washington, DC
7 p.m. ET - ESPN, SN1, TVA Sports
Wednesday, September 14
Team Czech Republic vs. Team North America - CONSOL Energy Center; Pittsburgh
3:30 p.m. ET - ESPN3, SN, SN1, TVA Sports
Team Canada vs. Team Russia - CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh
7:30 p.m. ET - ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports
Team Sweden vs. Team Europe - Verizon Center; Washington, DC
7 p.m. ET - ESPN3, SN360, TVA Sports 2
upcoming game information from NHL.com