In the best game of the 2017 World Junior Championship so far, the US narrowly defeated Russia 3-2. Here’s three things I noticed.
1)The United States plays an amazingly tenacious low cycle game. Possession is a big deal these days and the Russians like to move the puck all around the zone. Wherever the open ice is, they take it. Where the Russians react (very well) to where the ice is and go with the flow, the US forces their way down low into an old school game of keep away. Because they know this is the plan, they always have a guy jumping down first to the puck. It took two periods for team Russia to figure it out.
2)The Russians have a higher than normal compete level. Even though they were physically taken advantage of down low in their own zone, the Russians never stopped working or chasing. They even threw a few solid hits, and by the third period they were winning most of the battles. True, the US for some reason changed tactics and played a very passive 1-4 forecheck, but there was a lot of pushback from Russia even before that. They were dominated 5-on-5 against Canada as well but they didn’t let them take a shift off. The Russians earned several late power plays in both games by refusing to quit. I don’t think any lead will be safe if they advance to the medal stages.
3)The US Power play is going to be a force to be reckoned with. At 3/14 in three games(21%) they may seem a little unassuming, but the American power play is consistent. They have one power play goal in all three games and create many high percentage chances. What makes it dangerous is they attack the box a different way each time. Jordan Greenway is a big power forward who boxes up down low at the post. That’s the one major difference the United States has over other teams such as Canada and Sweden who mainly rely on skill guys who combine strength with team creativity. Not to take away from Greenway’s skill, but he also provides the legitimate option of a desperate puck poke down to the post for him to jam. His size and reach will be a lot for any team to handle for more than one or two penalty kills. If they use it more consistently it will open up the high seams as boxes start to collapse in anticipation.