TORONTO — When the United States filled out its roster for the World Cup of Hockey, it looked heavy on grit and physicality and light on skill and scoring.
That became reality in the Americans’ stunning 3-0 loss to unheralded Team Europe on Saturday in the World Cup opener. With offensive defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and 30-goal scorer Kyle Palmieri scratched, the U.S. struggled to generate quality scoring chances and finds itself in trouble one game into the tournament.
“It was just tough to score,” winger Zach Parise said. “There are guys that have different roles and different jobs on the team. Guys that play with grit, play hard — but it was just tough to score for us tonight.”
Jaroslav Halak stopped all 35 shots he faced to earn the shutout for Team Europe, a mix of players from Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark, France and Slovenia. Marian Gaborik, Leon Draisaitl and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored on U.S. goaltender Jonathan Quick, who made 14 saves.
Despite the lopsided shot total and the Americans’ dominant puck possession, Europe was in control for most of the game because of major mistakes. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh made an ill-advised pinch to set up a 2-on-1 rush that became Gaborik’s goal, and Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane turned the puck over to give Europe a 2-on-0 rush that became Draisaitl’s.
“You saw on a couple of our mistakes — turnovers, pinching, giving them odd-man breaks — they were able to capitalize,” Kane said. “On that second goal, I’ll definitely take the fault on that one. That’s a play that I’ve made a million times in my career. Just kind of lost the puck and the next thing you know they go down 2 on 0. That’s unacceptable from me.”
It was an unacceptable performance for the U.S., which now has been shut out in three consecutive major international tournament games dating to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Leaving skilled players like Tyler Johnson and Kyle Okposo off the roster sparked plenty of second-guessing of the U.S. management team, and that won’t slow down after losing to Team Europe.
Defenseman Ryan Suter called Sochi a “setback,” and the first game of the World Cup wasn’t a step forward.
“If you go back nine (international) periods where you don’t get anything, it’s frustrating but we’ve had some looks along the way,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “We had the power plays, we had some chances, we had a few looks. We’ve got to strike when we get those.”
The U.S. had a power-play goal disallowed when James van Riemsdyk was ruled to have intentionally directed the puck in with his chest. Coach John Tortorella believed it should have been a goal because the puck went off Derek Stepan’s helmet, but the NHL explained that it had no bearing and the goal should not count.
Tortorella defended his decision to sit Byfuglien and Palmieri, saying this was what the coaching staff believed was the best lineup. The result didn’t prove that out, and the top offensive players accepted responsibility for not being sharp enough.
Europe coach Ralph Krueger knew his team had to play “a perfect game” to beat the U.S. Captain Anze Kopitar called this a boring game, but it got the job done as Europe made good on Krueger’s pledge that the team was “ready to look America in the eyes.”
That belief extended to the locker room, even if beating the U.S. looked shocking from the outside.
“From the outside, we got stamped up as the underdog here,” Draisaitl said. “I think we all understand that, but at the same time, we have some really good players on our team as well. A lot of experience. A big win for us.”
For Europe it was a long way from blowout losses to the 23-and-under Team North America in exhibition play. Krueger emphasized that the Europeans weren’t satisfied to play one strong game.
“We didn’t see ourselves as just a sideshow, ever,” Krueger said. “We’ve come here to play nine periods and like everybody else we want to play next weekend.”
To advance to play next weekend in the semifinals, the U.S. must either beat favored Canada on Tuesday or hope for a miracle elsewhere in Group A. With only three games of round-robin play, a regulation loss is a significant blow.
“We’ve put ourselves in a spot now we’re chasing,” Tortorella said. “We’re chasing the tournament. It’s a spot we didn’t want to be in. It’s a very dangerous spot, but we are here.”
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