The Malik Report
DeKeyser, Abdelkader take part in a trainwreck of a U.S. loss to Latvia; Americans look disorganized
by George Malik on 05/15/14 at 11:53 AM ET
Updated 2x with Abdelkader quotes at 1:34 PM: The Red Wings' first two participants in World Championship hockey today have wrapped up a game that was...Interesting. As in, "What the hell was that?"
The Americans basically have a bunch of recent college graduates and yet-to-"arrive"-in-the-NHL prospects, Justin Abdelkader wearing the "C" and Tim Thomas in the net, and in front of what really was a "home crowd" for Latvia, with the Russian refs seeming to have a quota (though they let the really gratuitous stuff go on both sides) and whistles raining down on both teams...
Tim Thomas played like he was defending Vladimir Putin, Danny DeKeyser did not have his best game on defense, and I'm wondering if the "fever" that Expressen's Mattias Ek reports has spread to Gustav Nyquist's roommate, Erik Gustavsson, and linemate, Jimmie Ericsson (Sweden will be undermanned when they play France at 1:45 PM EDT today) somehow spread to both the Americans and Latvians.
Four U.S. players scored goals and the U.S. twice rallied to tie the game, but the U.S. Men's National Team fell to Latvia, 6-5, in the preliminary round of the International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship here today.
Team Latvia scored the game’s first goal at 15:39 of the opening frame, but Craig Smith (Madison, Wis./University of Wisconsin/Nashville Predators) found the back of the net one-minute later to tie the game at 1-1. After Latvia chipped the puck out to center, Jake Gardiner (Minnetonka, Minn./University of Wisconsin/Toronto Maple Leafs) made a quick transition pass to Smith, springing him cleanly into the offensive zone. Smith worked his way to the top of the right circle and fired a shot past Team Latvia goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis’ blocker.
The Latvians converted on a rebound at 18:57 of the first period and then scored a power-play marker at 8:08 of the second stanza to build a 3-1 advantage before Brock Nelson (Warroad, Minn./University of North Dakota/N.Y. Islanders) and Tyler Johnson (Spokane, Wash./Tampa Bay Lightning) netted back-to-back power-play goals to bring the U.S. back to even.
Seth Jones (Plano, Texas/Nashville Predators) started the first play when he fed Nelson with a pass at the left dot. Nelson took the puck, turned towards the net and flipped a backhander over Gudlevskis’ shoulder at 8:57 to make it 3-2. Then, just 1:03 later, Johnson parked at the side of the net and knocked a rebound in to knot the score at 3-3. Smith and Jacob Trouba (Rochester, Mich./University of Michigan/Winnipeg Jets) were credited with the assists on the play.
Latvia took a 4-3 lead with 8:35 remaining in regulation when Kaspars Daugavins beat U.S. goaltender Tim Thomas (Flint, Mich./University of Vermont/Dallas Stars) with a shot from the point, but Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass./Boston College) answered quickly when he tipped a Jones shots just inside the far post and in.
The Latvians made it 5-4 with 5:23 left in the third period on a goal during a delayed penalty and then scored again with 2:21 to play in the contest to make it 6-4.
Nelson cut the Latvia lead to 6-5 with 1:30 remaining in regulation when he redirected a Johnny Gaudreau (Carneys Point, N.J./Boston College/Calgary Flames) pass into the net, but the U.S. couldn't knot the score despite a late push.
The U.S. Men’s National Team (2-0-0-2) continues preliminary-round play tomorrow (May 16) at 9:45 a.m. ET against Kazakhstan. The game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network.
IIHF.com's Andy Potts offered a more poetic take, gushing about Latvia's poise in front of what is honestly not Team USA's best team (and they've got the usual requisite "chemistry" and "structure" issues in addition to inconsistent goaltending)...
The first period had echoes of Beauty and the Beast. Team USA, showing little evidence of a hangover following its heavy defeat to Russia, produced some scintilating offence, with Tyler Johnson's line looking particularly appealing as it tormented some tentative Latvian defence.
In contrast, Latvia focused on the virtues of hard work and simplicity - and, against the run of play, reaped its reward. Despite the delayed penalty call on the Americans, there didn't seem to be much danger when goalie Tim Thomas knocked Armands Dzerins' effort behind the goal. But Gints Meija went to chase the puck down and forced it into the net off the back of the goalie's skates.
That lead lasted exactly one minute before the USA conjured up a respone that had far greater aesthetic appeal. Jake Gardiner's pass from blue line to blue line elegantly bisected Latvia's defence and Craig Smith's unstoppable wrist shot did the rest, tying the game on 16:39.
But this Latvia team is always willing to hussle for goals, and just before the intermission Mikelis Redlihs for his third marker of the competition. Thomas gave up a big rebound on a Ronalds Kenins shot and Redlihs, a goalscorer last time out against Kazakhstan, swept the puck into an unguarded net.
The second session had even more to offer, even if the excitement was perhaps higher than the quality of hockey on display. Team USA came out determined to get back on top, and Johnny Gaudreau was agonisingly close to turning home a deflected shot from Jason Abdelkader early on. Soon after Gaudreau earned his team an extended 5v3 advantage, drawing a foul from Arturs Kulda as he wove his way through the defence.
Here, though, the Americans began to come undone: poor decision-making from the hitherto impressive Smith, elementary passing errors and lapses in concentration on the blue line dissipated all the pressure that had built up on Latvia, and the penalty was killed with ease. To make matters worse, Aleksandrs Nizivijs soon delivered a power play goal at the other end, surging in from the boards to find space out in front for a shot, and Latvia led 3-1.
Again, though, the response was swift. Yet another power play gave Brock Nelson the time and space to reduce the arrears within a minute, collecting Seth Jones pass on the face-off spot, backing Kristaps Sotnieks out of the game and lifting a backhander upstairs on Kristers Gudlevskis from close range.
Yet another power play tied it up on 31:00. This time Johnson got the goal, but he enjoyed a forunate rebound after Gudlevskis kicked out blindly to clear his crease after Smith's shot dropped down off the bar. The aftermath saw ugly scenes as Sotnieks aimed a punch at Nelson, who seemed to go down easily, incensing Latvia's fans.
(Yeah, and Justin Abdelkader got tackled and sat on late in the game, too, but the Russian refs were like, "Whatever, dude." They let the Americans get away with a bunch of stuff, too, including a last-minute hand pass that tested the hell out of Gudlevskis, but the whole game's soundtrack was definitely the Moldy Peaches' "Who's Got the Crack?")
Put simpy, the game was a trainwreck--for both teams--but the Latvians took advantage of Team USA's defensive gaffes and Tim Thomas's poor goaltending en route to an earned win.
In terms of the Red Wings players' stats, Danny DeKeyser took 2-and-10 for a hit to the head, finished at -2 and played 14:36, and let's just say that his pairing with Jacob Trouba, who believes in Brendan Smith-or-Jonathan-Ericsson-style "Hey, defensive partner, I'm gonna leave you alone, seeya!" rushes (DeKeyser tipped a goal past Thomas, and got caught cheating alongside Trouba on another goal)..
And Justin Abdelkader, being the captain, played more and more regularly as the game wore on, and while he finished at -2, too, he worked his ass off over his 15:09 of ice time, taking 3 shots and grinding and playing smart hockey.
The bottom line, however, is not good for the Americans:
This game kicked off a set of 3 games in 4 nights (they play Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan tomorrow at 9:45 and Finland on Sunday at 9:45, both on NBCSN), and their 2-and-2 record is not exactly super. They look like a team full of prospects and full of defensive holes, a team that struggles to find its form for any sort of sustained period of time under Peter Laviolette, and there's...
I'm going to be impolite and say that there's a real sense that all of the prospects from World Championships got in the good graces of Team USA's parochially-inclined management and coaches (you think that Team Canada's a Good Old Boys' Club? Hoo boy, Team USA's got 'em beat), and the Americans seem far too content to let a team half-full of players who are under 25 and in some cases, not able to legally drink in the U.S. be thrown to the wolves, because, yay, Development Model progress!
It isn't a winning recipe, and it's disappointing to witness, because Team USA looks more and more like Team Slovakia than a world-beater--except that the Slovaks may very well have more consistent top-line talent and a better goalie in Jan Laco.
The preliminary round goes until May 20th, and Team USA still has 3 more games to get its shit together, but I get the feeling that both the Americans and Tomas Tatar's Slovaks just don't have the personnel to battle Sweden's B Team, Russia's B Team (and oh boy are the Russians on a mission to avenge their Olympic ouster in Belarus), and even Canada and Finland's C teams have more cohesiveness than the Americans do at this point.
I'd shrug and say, "Oh well, growing pains" if the Americans hadn't been smoked 6-1 by Russia, barely squeaked out a 3-2 win over the underdog Swiss and only really beat the snot out of the host Belorusians.
At this point, it looks like Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser will be taking part in one gigantic American learning experience, and a learning experience that's going to end very early in the quarterfinal round.
Update: As MLive's Brendan Savage notes, DeKeyser's penalty was a costly one:
DeKeyser was hit with a checking to the head/neck minor penalty and subsequent misconduct 6:20 into the second period, leading to a power-play goal by Aleksandrs Nizivijs that gave Latvia a 3-1 lead.
Update #2: Justin Abdelkader spoke to USA Today's Kevin Allen about his team's loss:
"Over the last two games, we have played loose defensively and we have been giving teams the middle of the ice," U.S. captain Justin Abdelkader told USA TODAY Sports from Belarus. "We've played catch-up hockey the last two games and that's losing hockey."
Thomas (Dallas Stars) gave up six goals on 25 shots and coach Peter Laviolette might have to consider using Washington Capitals minor leaguer David Leggio in net for the team's next game Friday against Kazakhstran (9:45 a.m., ET, NBC Sports Network).
Thomas has not been sharp in the last two games.
"Right from the start, we have to come out and play tighter and better," Abdelkader said. "Every team in this tournament is good. We have to learn from our mistakes quick."
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