Why Team USA should (and shouldn't) win back-to-back gold medals at the 2011 WJC

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jackcampbellposes.jpgDespite the fact that home ice advantage may largely be nixed because Buffalo is so close to Canada, many believe that Team USA will be mild favorites for a repeat gold medal performance in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships. If they accomplished that goal, they’d only be the fourth team to win back-to-back golds in the tournament’s 34 year history.

Gare Joyce put together a list of five reasons why Team USA should win and countered with three areas of weakness to boot. I’ll go over each reason, with a few excerpts from his article.

Joyce’s No. 1 reason was returning goalie Jack Campbell (first photo). Campbell came in relief of Mike Lee to help the U.S. team win it all in an overtime thriller against Canada in front of a boisterous Canadian crowd in the last tournament.

I’ll admit that the main reason I spotlighted this segment was to share the amusing anecdote Joyce throws in, though.

1. Goalie Jack Campbell
You have to go back to 2003 for the last time a defending champion brought back a goaltender who was more than a backup on his first trip — Russia brought back Andrei Medvedev, a roly-poly kid who ended up eating himself out of hockey. (As an aside, I sat next to him after a practice and he devoured a family-sized bag of potato chips in no more than five minutes.) But even Medvedev’s name has an asterisk attached to it — he started two consecutive gold-medal games but was pulled from the first one.

Somebody somewhere is making “Medvedev is the Russian Martin Brodeur” jokes right now, I can just sense it.

2. Experience
Campbell is the starting point for experience on Team USA but it runs deep onto the roster. In Lake Placid the U.S. roster features six forwards (Ryan Bourque, Jerry D’Amigo, Chris Kreider, Jeremy Morin, Kyle Palmieri and Jason Zucker) and one defenseman (John Ramage) back from the 2010 championship team. Defenseman Cam Fowler wasn’t in attendance but unless the Anaheim Ducks try to force him into the lineup straight out of the draft (a possibility, however wrong-minded) he’ll also be back.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for bennettandetem.jpgWhich goes along nicely with the fifth point: chemistry, as Joyce points out this fact: ” … at least four D-men from the 2009 U.S. under-17 team will be in the lineup in Buffalo, with at least five forwards from the 2008 under-17 squad.”

Overall, Joyce points to goalie Campbell, experience, speed, physicality and chemistry as the five reasons why the U.S. team should feel good about its chances. Still, nearly every sports team has some weaknesses and Joyce shares three sticking points.

The first two are the biggest issues for the red, white and blue.

1. Sources of scoring
I asked coach Keith Allain what his greatest concern will be going into Buffalo. He answered the question with a question.


2. The middle of the ice
Said one NHL exec in Lake Placid: “I look at center on the U.S. depth chart and wonder who’s going to get the puck to the wingers.”

“Who’s going to score for us?”

So it sounds like the United States team might be a little bit lacking in the “firepower” department. They’ll depend a lot on a beyond-solid group of defensemen and Jack Campbell’s goaltending because the third problem Joyce chose was a lack of a good backup. Joyce points out that the current front-runner is Zane Gothberg, an excellently named but rather green late draft pick of the Boston Bruins.

Despite their flaws, the ’09 version of the US World Juniors team was a blast to watch. We’ll see what kind of group they put on the ice in Buffalo, but fans of American hockey should be very excited about this group as they mature over the next few years. Perhaps the US team’s surprising run to a silver medal will just be the beginning of a great new era in American hockey …

Preds still haven’t found their scoring touch

Mike Fisher
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The Nashville Predators got off to a relatively good start this season, but something seems to have happened to their offense over the last six games.

Prior to Nov. 20, the Preds had only been shut out once in their first 17 games. Since then, they’ve been blanked three times and have just six goals in their last six contests.

If you remove Mike Fisher from the equation, the numbers are even more dreadful.

Fisher’s scored three of those six goals, while Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro have none.

After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Buffalo , here’s what coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean: “I thought we could’ve had more gas, to be honest with you. The energy just wasn’t there; maybe the second period had something to do with that or the road trip, which was a long trip. I’m not making any excuses, but I think when we play at a higher tempo that’s when we’re at our best, and we had more to push in that area tonight.”

The first game back home after a long road trip is typically a difficult one for most teams, so we’ll see how the Predators respond on Tuesday night when they host Arizona.

A month to remember: Duchene lighting it up in November

Matt Duchene, Nick Holden
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It wasn’t too long ago that a report surfaced saying that the Avalanche were willing to listen to offers on forward Matt Duchene.

When a player’s struggling and rumors start swirling, one of two things tends to happen.

Either the player involved lets it affect his on-ice performance in a negative way or he’s motivated by the trade talk and turns his struggles around.

Instead of pouting, the 24-year-old rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

In October, Duchene scored a goal and an assist in 10 games, but things changed in a hurry when November rolled around.

The Avs forward has picked up at least one point in 11 of 13 games this month.

Duchene has 11 goals and nine assists in November and he still has a game to go before the calendar flips to December.

“Obviously, things completely flip-flopped,” Duchene told the Denver Post. “That’s the coldest start I’ve ever had and things are good right now. Obviously, I know it could go right back, I could go cold again, that’s just the nature of the game. You just have to work every day to keep it going. The most important thing is to be able to provide offense and help the team win.”

PHT Morning Skate: A bride can have her burger and eat it too

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

A woman in a wedding dress was caught eating a burger during Saturday’s game between the Stars and Wild. (Above)

Team Europe has a number of quality goaltending options to chose from ahead of next fall’s World Cup of Hockey. (NHL.com)

Watch as some players on Nashville’s roster try to guess the lyrics to different country songs:

Former goaltender Eddie Johnston sits down for a Q & A with ESPN.com’s Shelly Anderson. (ESPN)

Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher got into a “Twitter war” with former NHLer Jim Kyte. (Puck Daddy)

Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference made a generous donation to a Syrian refugee fund. (Huffington Post)

Julien explains comments about Lundqvist’s ‘acting’

Claude Julien

We’re now over two days removed from last Friday’s tilt between the Bruins and the Rangers, but the coaches from both teams seem unwilling to move on.

Moments after that game, Claude Julien claimed that Henrik Lundqvist did some “acting” on the ice to sell a goalie interference call on Brad Marchand.

On Saturday, Alain Vigneault fired back by saying that Julien needed to get his eyesight checked. Vigneault also compared Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton in the 2011 Stanley Cup final to Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan in Friday’s game.

Now it was Julien’s turn to address the “issue” at hand.

Julien clarified his original comment about Lundqvist and he also tackled some of Vigneault’s comments.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what I said . . . I thought Lundqvist sold it,” said Julien. “Not for a second did I ever question Henrik Lundqvist as a person, or a goaltender or any of that. We all know how good he is as a goaltender, and I know he’s a good person. I’ve met him at the All-Star games and all that stuff.

Julien on his eyesight: “As far as my eyes, I’m not the one that compared Beleskey’s hit to Aaron Rome’s [hit]. We’ll just leave it at that.”

It’s time for both sides to move on.