James O'Brien

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of Team USA answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Wow, Dustin Byfuglien is a healthy scratch for U.S.

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Like other hockey nations boasting a variety of options, it’s easy to second-guess John Tortorella and the rest of the Team USA brass. Sitting Dustin Byfuglien makes it even easier.

After floating the one-of-a-kind offensive weapon around, including that familiar move of putting him at forward, Torts raised some eyebrows in making Byfuglien a healthy scratch altogether.

Then again, when you consider the fact that Byfuglien’s been snubbed before as far as international play goes, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised? Perhaps the large scorer isn’t in shape, or isn’t in shape according to what Tortorella values? Does this come down to the view from some that Byfuglien’s risks outweigh his rewards?

(For what it’s worth, Tortorella told the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan that the move is “no knock” on Byfuglien and indicated that he could work his way back into the lineup.)

All kinds of questions come up with this move, especially if the U.S. struggles to create offense against Team Europe on Saturday.

Seriously, don’t be shocked if a lack of firepower burns America, even if that doesn’t happen this afternoon.

The other scratches are forward Kyle Palmieri and goalie Cory Schneider. More than a few believe that Schneider is America’s best option (just take a look at his career save percentage numbers), but America is clearly invested in Jonathan Quick.

Pacioretty: Kane gives U.S. a chance to win World Cup

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks accepts the Hart Trophy awarded to the player who is the most valuable to his team during the 2016 NHL Awards at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Patrick Kane looks at 2010 Vancouver Olympic final loss to Canada as the United States being one goal away from gold. Jonathan Quick looks at the 2014 Sochi Olympic semifinal loss as the U.S. being one goal away from playing for gold.

This generation of U.S. players has always been one goal away and unable to finish the job. With Kane, Quick, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and captain Joe Pavelski among those back for another crack, the realization is setting in that this World Cup of Hockey is the Americans’ best and perhaps last chance to win an international championship.

Coach John Tortorella has told his team, “It’s time.”

“We’re probably in the prime and peak of our careers right now where we feel that it’s time to make something happen,” Kane said. “You can think about that pressure, you can do whatever you want with it, but it comes down to this tournament for us and this tournament only.”

The Americans open tournament play in Toronto on Saturday against Team Europe, and the showdown against Canada is Tuesday. With only three games in round-robin play, there’s urgency for every team to start strong and no breathing room.

Kane pointed out that previous American generations won at the 1960 and 1980 Olympics and 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Kane, Quick, Parise, Suter, Pavelski, David Backes and Ryan Kesler have been around for six years and through two Olympics and it’s not just time, it’s about time.

“We’ve been there and we’ve had our chances and it’s time to break through,” Pavelski said. “We’ve been close, but we’re looking for a little bit more out of each other and to really find that right ingredient and that big play at the right moment.”

Look no further than Kane, who won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP last season for the Chicago Blackhawks and led the league in scoring with 106 points. He’s the brightest of the U.S. stars and will have to do better than the zero goals and four points he produced in Sochi. Winger Max Pacioretty called Kane “the best player in the game” and the World Cup the perfect situation for him.

“I’d go as far as to say our team has a good chance because Patrick Kane is in his prime,” Pacioretty said. “This tournament sets up perfectly for him. … A guy like that can change a game in one shift so I think for the rest of the team our identity is be hard to play against, make life difficult for them, but Kaner, let him do his thing.”

Some things to watch as the United States faces Europe:

LINE SHUFFLE

Tortorella has Kane with left winger James van Riemsdyk and center Derek Stepan, and Pavelski centering Parise and Blake Wheeler, but won’t hesitate to shake things up. Already Pacioretty has been bounced around the lineup, and everyone is on a short leash.

“We can’t wait and it’s not about feeling our way through,” Tortorella said.

LAST CHANCE

Europe coach Ralph Krueger isn’t professing “it’s time” for a team that has never played together before, but he does know the clock is running out on players like 39-year-old Zdeno Chara, 38-year-old Mark Streit, 37-year-old Marian Hossa and 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg.

“For a lot of them it might be the last time on this big a stage to have an opportunity to do something special, and we can feel the hunger for that,” Krueger said.

QUICK VS. HALAK

Quick starts in goal for the U.S. against Europe’s Jaroslav Halak, who was impressive in the exhibition finale against Sweden. Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Europe’s top offensive players could be a tougher test for Quick than anyone thinks.

EARLY JITTERS

The teams are full of veteran players who are familiar with elite tournaments, but the first game of the entire World Cup could see some early butterflies. A first-period mistake could have a long-term impact, especially because goal differential is a tiebreaker.

BRUTE STRENGTH

If there’s anything U.S. has more than other teams in the tournament it’s size and strength. Europe can’t match that and will have to use finesse and playmaking to counteract the Americans’ power.

Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

Yikes, Tyler Seguin suffered a hairline fracture in his heel

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars provided bad news after Tyler Seguin underwent an MRI: the star forward suffered a hairline fracture in his heel.

Stars GM Jim Nill didn’t provide a timetable for his recovery, stating that the team will re-evaluate Seguin in about one week.

At the moment, this feels like the nightmare scenario NHL teams try to put out of their minds when they think about elite players participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which kicks off on Saturday. This is a far cry from the belief that Seguin would merely need a few day’s rest.

It’s believed that Seguin was injured thanks to this unfortunate spill during Canada’s exhibition run:

No doubt about it, this has been a really rough several months for Seguin, who dealt with Achilles/calf issues that derailed the end of his 2015-16 season.

As far as Team Canada is concerned, Ryan O'Reilly isn’t just Seguin’s replacement on the roster … he’s also a big reason why Claude Giroux is an unlikely healthy scratch.

So it begins: Today’s two World Cup games

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  T.J. Oshie #74 of Team USA looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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So it begins: with two games, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey kicks off on Saturday.

Let’s take a quick look at the two contests.

Team USA vs. Team Europe

Airing on: ESPN 2, Sportsnet, TVA Sports at 3:30 p.m. ET

With juggernaut Canada looming for America’s next game, they probably realize that they need to get off to a nice start with a win against Europe. On the other hand, Jaroslav Halak & Co. hope to continue the momentum from their win against Sweden.

Team Czech Republic vs. Team Canada

Airing on: ESPN News, Sportsnet, TVA Sports at 8 p.m. ET

Carey Price gets to carry the baton for Canada with Braden Holtby and Claude Giroux standing as especially rare scratches. While Canada stands as the healthy favorite, the Czech Republic looked sharper than some may have expected during their warm-up games.

Crosby and Malkin look forward to going head-to-head

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on November 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are a decade into partnership that has helped guide the Pittsburgh Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups, three combined MVP awards, four scoring titles and a seemingly endless wave of GIF-worthy goals.

It hasn’t always been easy. There was the language barrier when Malkin first arrived from Russia in 2006 to join Crosby as the linchpins of a franchise trying to restore itself to its former glory. The natural growing pains that come when two supremely talented players try to figure things out. The giddy celebration in Detroit in 2009 that ended with Crosby raising the Cup, a triumph that seemed destined to be the launching point of a dynasty.

When it didn’t happen thanks to six years of good but never consistently great hockey, the two remained committed to each other. The payoff came during Pittsburgh’s renaissance under coach Mike Sullivan last spring, when the Penguins sprinted to a championship with their two cornerstone players leading the way.

“At the end of the day we both chose to be here and want to play together and that’s not always the case on every team,” Crosby said Tuesday. “I think there’s a lot of respect there.”

A sentiment that will be put to the test – at least briefly – when Crosby and Team Canada face Malkin and Team Russia in a World Cup of Hockey exhibition on Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center, the final tuneup before both squads before the tournament opens later this week in Toronto.

It’s not the first time the Crosby and Malkin have been on opposite sides during international play. Six years ago, Crosby and Canada torched Malkin and the Russians 7-3 in the Olympic quarterfinals on the way to gold. Yet Wednesday will mark the first time when both stars will be at “home,” even if Malkin will end up getting dressed in the visiting locker room.

Yes, Malkin knows the way.

“It’s weird,” Malkin said. “But I don’t know how the fans feel, but I hope they support us.”

That won’t be in question. The curious sight of Crosby’s No. 87 and Malkin’s No. 71 in different hued sweaters on Pittsburgh’s home ice will be jarring. Not nearly as jarring, though, as the prospect of both of them chasing after a loose puck in the corner with different agendas.

Seeing two of the best players in the game getting after it would make for great theater, which is exactly what the NHL had in mind when it brought the World Cup back. Yet it may also produce a dash of anxiety for the front office that pays Crosby and Malkin millions to line the rafters at Consol with banners.

It’s a danger both are well aware of, and they’re hardly the only pair of teammates who will find themselves putting country before NHL team chemistry during the tournament. While Crosby allows there’s always the risk of running into each other, at some point you’ve got to just let that part go and focus on playing the game.

“You’re not necessarily thinking `That’s my teammate,’ in a split second,” Crosby said. “Sometimes you might not even know who has the puck.”

Even if Crosby and Malkin are unmistakable with a stick in their hands. Crosby anticipates the smack talk to be kept at a minimum, but didn’t rule out making a run at Malkin if the moment requires it.

“If we do, it’ll be in good fun,” Crosby said with a laugh. “We’re both pretty intense so it could happen. You never know.”

Malkin expects there to be a little chirping, too, but for an entirely different reason. Turns out Crosby is such a motormouth on the ice Malkin doesn’t even bother trying to keep up.

“Sid talks too much every game,” Malkin said. “He talks too quick for me. Actually, when he’s mad, I don’t understand. But he’s funny.”

All kidding aside, the two find themselves with vastly different missions heading to Toronto. The two-time defending Olympic champions are heavy favorites to stand atop the podium on the same soil where the sport was invented.

The Russians, meanwhile, will try to erase the memory of a forgettable 2014 Olympics in Sochi when they were knocked out in the quarterfinals at home. The pressure will be firmly on Canada, giving Russia a chance to play the role of underdog, if a team that includes Malkin and Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin can be considered one.

“We lost the last two Olympics before,” Malkin said. “It’s a new challenge for the national team and we have a great team right now … it’s an amazing time to be here in my second `home’ town playing for the national team.”