Team USA’s opener at the 2017 World Junior tournament was a tale of two different games.
For the first 40 minutes of their game against Latvia they looked extremely sloppy and were fortunate to be playing a team that opened as a 250-1 shot to win the tournament.
But once they shook off some rust and found their stride in the third period the talent gap between the two sides started to become apparent as the United States rolled to a 6-1 win.
The United States received a two-goal effort Clayton Keller, as well as goals from Patrick Harper, Colin White, Jeremy Bracco and Jordan Greenway.
The final score looks lopsided, but Latvia put up a pretty good fight through the first two periods as the United States stumbled out of the gate and seemed to be doing everything it could to allow Latvia to hang around. During one particularly ugly stretch early in the second period (with the game still tied at one) the United States allowed a breakaway, a 2-on-1 rush, and then a 3-on-1 rush in less than five minutes.
That sequence came after Renars Krastenbergs converted on a breakaway of his own late in the first period to even the score.
Had Latvia been able to convert on any of those chances early in the second period it could have sent the game in an entirely different direction. But they didn’t, and the United States was able to put it all in the rear view mirror and capitalize on Latvia’s missed opportunities.
Once they avoided that early second period scare, White scored his first goal of the tournament for what would go on to be the game-winning goal.
Have a look at it.
Keller scored his first of the tournament 12 minutes later to help put the game out of reach before adding a second goal in the third period.
Keller, the No. 7 overall pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2016, is one of the top players for Team USA and should be one of the top scorers in the tournament. Keller has 15 points in 10 games for Boston University this season.
Aside from the odd-man rushes and chances the United States kept allowing through the first half of the game, their other big issue on the Monday that has to be corrected was their inability to stay out of the penalty box, taking seven minor penalties and giving Latvia several chances to get back into the game when it was still close.
That level of play will almost certainly not be enough against powerhouse teams like Russia or Canada.
The United States returns to action on Wednesday against Slovakia, before finishing the opening round against Russia on Thursday and then Canada on Saturday.
In other tournament action on Monday, Sweden was a 6-1 winner over Denmark.