Cam Tucker

PHIL KESSEL

So, Phil Kessel has apparently weighed in on Team USA’s loss

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Phil Kessel‘ appears to be trending on Twitter.

Shortly after Team USA was officially eliminated from contention at the World Cup of Hockey, the prolific scoring forward made what you could easily determine to be a subtle but not-so-subtle jab on social media at the decision this spring to leave him off the roster.

(It must be noted that Kessel underwent hand surgery this summer, and he is working to return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup for opening night of the regular season. It’s been widely believed he was unavailable for this tournament.)

The result Tuesday opens the door to plenty of second-guessing and criticism for how this U.S. roster was built for this tournament. Did general manager Dean Lombardi and his group bring the best players to face the likes of Team Canada?

The blueprint was to build a team that was physical and gritty. But what about bringing in additional game-breakers that are dynamic point producers or strong in the puck possession game? Through two round robin games, Team USA scored twice, including a goal in what was essentially garbage time against the Canadians.

At least publicly, head coach John Tortorella, who will take his share of criticism in all this, wouldn’t change anything about the make-up of this team.

Related:

Tortorella defends Team USA’s roster, blames loss to Canada on ‘self-inflicted’ mistakes

Identity crisis: Team USA suffers disastrous loss to Team Canada at World Cup

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Jonathan Quick #32 of Team USA makes a save on Matt Duchene #9 of Team Canada in the second period during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 20, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Dean Lombardi wanted to build a Team USA that could beat Team Canada at the World Cup by means of gritty, grinding style. They had their shot Tuesday in Toronto.

And Canada came away victorious. Again.

All that talk about grit and physical play amounted to a 4-2 loss for Team USA, which is now officially eliminated from contention at the World Cup. The Americans have gone 0-2 through the opening two games of the round robin, after losing to Team Europe in a rather uninspiring — and equally concerning — display in the opener and failing to maintain a decent start against the Canadians.

They play the Czech Republic on Thursday. And then it is officially over for Team USA.

This one should sting. For a long time.

It’s completely fair to say this management group — with Lombardi as the GM and John Tortorella as its head coach — completely overvalued things like ‘grit’ and ‘intangibles.’

Phil Kessel would not have been able to play at this tournament due to hand surgery in the summer, a development that wasn’t revealed until the middle of July. But why was a prolific goal scorer left off the roster in the first place and others like Brandon Dubinsky penciled in ahead of him?

And then, there is this, just moments after Team USA lost. Game, set and match, Phil Kessel.

Further to that:

No Tyler Johnson.

No Bobby Ryan.

No Kevin Shattenkirk.

No Justin Faulk.

No Kyle Okposo.

All very notable snubs, especially after this showing, punctuated by the loss to the rival Canadians. And the result should open the floodgates to questions and criticism about why this roster was shaped this particular way.

Tortorella scratching Dustin Byfuglien — while dressing Jack Johnson — and Kyle Palmieri — and dressing Dubinsky — for his team’s tournament opener was questioned, especially after the final score.

The talent pool in the U.S. is there. They also have several up-and-coming stars — Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel or Johnny Gaudreau — but they played on the younger Team North America in this tournament.

But this management and coaching staff did have options. Better options, you can easily argue, for this competition. And it chose to venture down a path with a team that could bang and crash and block shots and, well, apparently not much else.

Team USA outhit the Canadians. By a wide margin (38-14), in fact. They won more faceoffs (62 per cent compared to 38 per cent) than the Canadians. Again, by a wide margin. But they couldn’t score like the Canadians could. Yes, they were unlucky, hitting three goal posts in the final period. But ultimately, they couldn’t match the skill and they couldn’t match the depth.

And now, they’re done.

Critics of this team, however, may only be getting started.

Sabres’ Kane files counterclaim against accuser from December encounter

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 18:  Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Sabres defeated the Coyotes 2-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane says a woman’s civil suit claiming he seriously injured her during an attack in his hotel room is meant solely to harass him.

Kane calls the 21-year-old woman’s allegations “a sham” in a counterclaim filed in state Supreme Court last week.

The filing, first reported by The Buffalo News on Tuesday, seeks dismissal of the July 1 complaint and legal costs.

The woman claims she suffered emotional trauma and required multiple surgeries and blood transfusions after the December encounter. In March, prosecutors declined to charge Kane with any crimes following an investigation into a possible sexual assault.

Kane has pleaded not guilty to harassment, disorderly conduct and trespass stemming from a separate incident in June during which he allegedly grabbed three women by the hair and neck. Kane’s next scheduled court appearance for that case is Oct. 31.

He’s scheduled to report to training camp on Thursday.

Related:

Prosecutor submits new evidence against Evander Kane

Evander Kane sued by woman claiming he injured her

Chiarelli confirms Ekblad (upper-body injury) has left Team North America

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers arrives for Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Team North America general manager Peter Chiarelli has confirmed earlier reports that Aaron Ekblad has left the team and will not return after suffering what the Miami Herald, quoting a Florida Panthers source, reported as a “mild concussion” earlier in the tournament.

“While Aaron would have liked to stay with his teammates at the World Cup of Hockey, we respect the decision for him to continue his evaluation and rehabilitation in Florida with the Panthers’ team doctors,” said Chiarelli in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

“Aaron was a very important part of our defence core here and a key leader on this team. We wish him all the best in his recovery.”

That’s a tough loss for Team North America, which can still earn a berth in the World Cup of Hockey semifinals.

On the other hand, it’s understandable why the Panthers would want Ekblad back in Florida, given they just signed him to an eight-year, $60 million contract extension over the summer.

‘I’ll be ready to start the first game,’ says Kessel following offseason hand surgery

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 23:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the New York Rangers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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After winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career, proving a point to his critics at the same time, Phil Kessel underwent hand surgery this summer.

That certainly put any chance of his appearance at the World Cup of Hockey for Team USA on ice, after he was initially snubbed from their lineup. As for the beginning of the 2016-17 NHL regular season, Kessel is optimistic he’ll be good to go when it starts next month.

“I’ll obviously be out there skating in camp,” said Kessel, as per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I’ll progress as it goes. But I’ll be ready to start the first game of the year. … (The hand) feels a lot better now than it did last year.”

Yes, according to Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, Kessel had been dealing with that injured hand for the entire season.

But Kessel’s latest comments represent good news, obviously, for the Penguins. It could be bad news for opposing goalies once the scoring forward gets up to pace.

Kessel scored 26 goals last season — his first in Pittsburgh after he was traded there from Toronto last summer. He followed that up with a 10-goal, 22-point playoff performance that had him in the running for the Conn Smythe Trophy.