Jason Brough

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 20: Matt Duchene #9 of Team Canada celebrates his first period goal with Ryan O'Reilly #90 and Joe Thornton #97 while playing Team USA during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 20, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The biggest reason Canada wins? ‘It’s called players, really good players’


Just like USA Hockey, so too was Hockey Canada criticized for leaving certain players off its World Cup roster.

Offensive defensemen P.K. Subban and Kris Letang were the big omissions, rejected because they shoot right-handed and/or didn’t have the full trust of the coaching staff. Instead, the Canadians went with Jake Muzzin and Jay Bouwmeester.

But after advancing to the semifinals of the World Cup, Hockey Canada has so far avoided the criticism that’s currently being heaped on USA Hockey. First of all, because the Canadians are winning. But also because, even without Subban and Letang, nobody looks at Canada’s roster and wonders if there’s enough skill. When Joe Thornton, Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene are your fourth line, there’s clearly enough skill.

Hockey Canada, essentially, can afford to play it safe in certain instances.

For that reason, head coach Mike Babcock, who also coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs, is hesitant to take much credit for his success at the national-team level, which already includes two Olympic gold medals and may soon include a World Cup title.

“Sometimes we get way too caught up talking about structure and systems and all that, and it’s just the players are better,” Babcock said after last night’s 4-2 win that eliminated the Americans. “I had that same structure and we finished dead last last year. I was the worst coach in the National Hockey League, if you remember correct. So let’s put things in perspective. It’s called players, really good players. And when you’re fortunate that they let you coach really good players, you look like a pretty good coach sometimes.”

This isn’t to let John Tortorella or Dean Lombardi off the hook. The Americans’ biggest sin at the World Cup was’t losing to Canada; it was losing to Team Europe. The question USA Hockey should be asking is, Can we do better? And the answer to that is, yes.

As for the Canadians, they play Europe tonight for first place in Group A. After that, it’s on to the semifinals, where winning will be the only acceptable result for Babcock and his players.

“We just come to the event, we prepare for the games, we try to get better every day, and we try to win in the end,” said Babcock. “And being Canadian, you’re greedy. You think it’s your right to find a way to get ‘er done.”

Related: On the difference between ‘good’ and ‘big-time’ players

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

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: Head coach John Tortorella of Team USA looks on during the first period while playing Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey tournament on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“We have practiced enough,” John Tortorella said yesterday. “We have talked enough, we have gone through all that process. Let’s play the damn game.”

Well, the damn game finished 4-2 for Team Canada tonight in Toronto, eliminating Tortorella’s Team USA from World Cup contention. With a whimper.

The winless Americans still have to play the winless Czechs on Thursday, but it will be a meaningless affair for both sides. Team Europe and Team Canada have both advanced to the semifinals. They’ll play each other tomorrow for first place in Group A.

For the Americans — who came into the best-on-best tournament trumpeting the slogan, “It’s time” — it was an embarrassing, demoralizing, dismal performance.

They lacked creativity on offense.

They had numerous defensive breakdowns.

They did not show much resilience.

They did not look like a team with a sound plan.

In two games, they were outscored by a 7-2 margin. On Saturday, in a game they couldn’t afford to lose, they were shut out by Team Europe, 3-0.

Now the blame game starts.

It begins with the coach, who was always a controversial choice. In 2014, Tortorella was fired by the Vancouver Canucks after one disastrous season, and he admitted he deserved to be. But Team USA’s general manager, Dean Lombardi, felt that Tortorella had learned some valuable lessons, so he gave him the job.

“John’s had a lot of success, but what I was most intrigued by was that he was willing to admit he’d made mistakes,” said Lombardi. “He freely opened up as far as mistakes he’d made with players, maybe even times with his system, as well as the media. That takes a lot.”

Upon getting hired, Tortorella talked about his plan for Team USA at the World Cup.

“It’s about pressure,” he said. “It’s about attacking. And let’s forget about the X’s and O’s, it’s about a mindset. It’s about a team that needs to feel good about itself before this tournament even starts, needs to feel strong mentally about itself. I think intangibles in such a short tournament is huge.”

The roster would reflect Tortorella’s philosophy. Players that liked to engage physically, like Justin Abdelkader, were chosen over skilled goal-scorers like Phil Kessel. On the back end, it was big Erik Johnson over a puck-mover like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk.

“We are going to know who we are,” Tortorella vowed. “And we are going to play our game.”

And after falling to Canada, he doubled down on the plan.

According to Tortorella, the problem for the Americans wasn’t the roster or tactics. It was a simple matter of execution.

“We didn’t play well enough,” he said. “But you guys can beat up the roster all you want. You look at some of those players on our roster, there are some pretty good skill players, and we just simply did not do enough offensively. And we self-inflicted quite a bit in the two games. We gave some easy goals, and you just can’t do that in a short tournament.”

He added, “I thought the guys were prepared, but we blow up, self-inflicted, and they surged, and we had no answer. We kept trying to catch up the rest of the game and just couldn’t get it done. ”

Meanwhile, Kessel took to Twitter:

Bottom line: this World Cup is going to sting for USA Hockey, and it’s likely to lead to some soul-searching. What kind of hockey do the Americans want to play? What do they value most? They tried it the hard-working, gritty way and it didn’t go very well. Is there a better way?

And hey, maybe there isn’t. Maybe right now there just isn’t enough talent to match up with Canada. Maybe there will be one day. But until that day arrives, maybe the Torts way is, in fact, the best way.

Let the debate rage.

Related: That was the worst possible World Cup debut for Team USA

Therrien denies calling Pacioretty ‘the worst captain in Canadiens history’

Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien listens to a question during a news conference following an NHL hockey practice in Brossard, Quebec, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

From The Canadian Press:

Montreal coach Michel Therrien denies ever calling Max Pacioretty “the worst captain in Canadiens history” but is glad there will be more veteran leadership on his squad this season.

Therrien reportedly disparaged Pacioretty at a recent charity golf tournament. The report said the coach was overheard by several people.

“First of all, I never said that,” Therrien said Tuesday at the Canadiens golf tournament. “Secondly, I don’t pay attention to hearsay.”

This story, not surprisingly, has been a hot one in Montreal, ever since it bubbled up last week.

“It’s unfortunate that something like that would get made-up, catch wildfire and spread,” Pacioretty said Wednesday, per Yahoo Sports. “This is something that’s obviously not true. I’m not going to sit here and pout. It is unfortunate. It is something I don’t want to deal with.”

Suffice to say, it’s going to be fascinating to watch the Habs this season. No more P.K. Subban, replaced by Shea Weber. The return of a healthy Carey Price. And now there’s this story, even if both Therrien and Pacioretty have denied that it is a story.

Pacioretty, 27, is signed for three more years at a cap hit of $4.5 million. He was named the Canadiens’ captain last September, the 29th to wear the ‘C’ in franchise history.

Related: After Torts call-out, Pacioretty knows he needs to do more, but also knows these are exhibition games

Stars GM hopes a ‘more mature’ Nichushkin will return to Dallas after KHL stint

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Valeri Nichushkin #43 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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It sounds like Jim Nill has accepted the fact that Valeri Nichushkin is headed to the KHL.

“The good news is he’s 21 years of age, he’s going to play over there and keep developing,” Nill said yesterday, per Wrong Side of the Red Line. “I just hope we get a more mature player when he decides to come back over. It’s not the end of the world.”

CSKA Moscow announced today that Nichushkin had agreed to a two-year deal. “The agreement will be signed in the near future,” the club said in a statement.

This is not the first time a talented Russian youngster has chosen to leave the NHL for the KHL. The Winnipeg Jets lost Alexander Burmistrov for a couple of years, before he returned for last season.

Nichushkin’s biggest issue seems to be with Stars head coach Lindy Ruff. According to one report, the former 10th overall draft pick wants to return to Dallas one day, but he doesn’t want to play for Ruff.

Late last month, the Stars signed veteran winger Jiri Hudler, perhaps with the expectation they’d be losing Nichushkin.

Team USA facing long odds tonight against Team Canada

U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick stretches before an exhibition hockey game against Finland, part of the World Cup of Hockey, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Including the exhibition schedule, Team Canada has played four games at the World Cup and outshot its opponents by a combined margin of 179 to 101.

That’s an average margin of 45 to 25, and it underscores the challenge Team USA will face tonight in Toronto. A loss of any kind for the Americans and they’ll have no chance of advancing to the semifinals.

At online sportsbook Bovada, Team Canada is at -300 on the moneyline, meaning a bettor would need to risk $300 to win just $100 on a Canadian victory. That’s a pretty measly return, but then, so are the chances of an American upset, according to most observers.

Jonathan Quick will be in goal again for Team USA. He was the main reason the Americans were able to beat the Canadians, 4-2, on Sep. 9 in exhibition play, stopping 29 of 30 shots in two periods, before Ben Bishop went nine for 10 in the third.

That same game, Carey Price struggled in Team Canada’s net, but it was his first start in nine months so he had a pretty good excuse. He’s since rediscovered his old form.

On Saturday, Quick allowed three goals on just 17 shots in a dismal loss to Team Europe, but he could hardly be blamed for the result. The first goal came on a 2-on-1; the second was on a 2-on-0. Even the third was tricky, as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was able to tip a wobbly one-timer home.

“I think we’re going to be able to chip out some of the glorious odd-man rushes we gave them early on for a couple of freebies,” said head coach John Tortorella. “I think we’ll get those chipped out, but the part of the game that bothers me most is creating some scoring chances, some better quality scoring chances.”

So not only will the Americans need a big game from their goalie, they’ll need to find a way to score some goals. That’s no easy task against a stacked Canadian side that takes a ton of pride in its defensive game. The Canadians, dating back to the 2014 Olympics, haven’t surrendered a goal in their last three meaningful games. The Americans, in stark contrast, haven’t scored in their last three meaningful games.

As expected, Dustin Byfuglien will replace Jack Johnson in the Team USA lineup. Up front, it’ll be Brandon Dubinsky — not David Backes — who comes out to make way for Kyle Palmieri.

Related: Mike Babcock warns against Canadian complaceny