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.

[snip]

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 …

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.

Video: Zatkoff robs Condra with sprawling paddle save

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All Erik Condra had to do was lift the puck off the ice.

He didn’t, and as a result, he was robbed by sprawled out Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made a spectacular desperation save with the paddle of his stick on the Lightning forward.

The save occurred just past the midway point of the third period. That kept the Penguins in the game, down by a goal at the time.

However, the Penguins couldn’t get the equalizer. The result was a 6-3 loss for Pittsburgh, as Tampa Bay scored twice later in the period.

Defending Eastern Conference champion Bolts continue hot streak

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Remember those distractions the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure?

— The future of captain Steven Stamkos, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and whose contract situation has been an ongoing discussion point for months now.

Jonathan Drouin‘s camp publicly requesting a trade, then having the 20-year-old forward sent to the minors and then suspended by Tampa Bay, etc.

Well, through it all, the defending Eastern Conference champions have emerged and are now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League . Since the start of January, the Bolts have lost twice. In 13 games.

They continued their hot streak Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins — another of those teams on an impressive streak — by a final score of 6-3, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with three points. He was one of six Tampa Bay players to record a multi-point night.

Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Tampa Bay is now five points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Atlantic Division.

For the Penguins, the loss keeps them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now. They remain one point back of New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to nine games. He also has goals in five straight and is one point shy of 900 for his career.