Jason Brough

Ryan Miller

‘Make no mistake,’ Ryan Miller is still the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver

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It should be obvious by now that Jim Benning is extremely loyal to Ryan Miller. The Canucks’ general manager was instrumental in the drafting of the American netminder (almost two decades ago in Buffalo), and one of Benning’s first moves in Vancouver was to sign Miller to a three-year, $18 million deal.

And while 26-year-old Jacob Markstrom is most definitely on the rise, Benning insisted today that Miller, whose contract expires after this season, is still the man for the Canucks.

“Ryan Miller is our No. 1 goalie,” Benning told TSN 1040 radio (audio). “He’s a guy that, he has the experience, he had a good season for us last year. So let’s make no mistake about that, first and foremost, Ryan’s our No. 1 goalie, but I feel we have two real good goalies and that’s a strength of our team.”

Benning did watch Markstrom make a surprise start for Sweden yesterday at the World Cup, and he was “really happy” to see his young netminder stop all but one of the 28 shots he faced in a 2-1 win over Russia.

“I think this is a good step for him in his confidence and going forward, so I was happy that he played real good and his team won,” said Benning.

The message for Markstrom is that he’ll have to outplay the 36-year-old Miller to become the No. 1, and that’s certainly fair enough. Both goalies had similar save percentages last season. Markstrom’s was .915 in 33 games, Miller’s was .916 in 51 games.

Related: Canucks extend Markstrom through 2019-20

Team USA practice suggests Byfuglien and Palmieri could play versus Canada

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)

Based on today’s practice, changes could be coming to Team USA’s lineup for tomorrow’s must-win versus Team Canada at the World Cup.

Dustin Byfuglien, a controversial scratch in Saturday’s loss to Team Europe, was reportedly skating on a pairing with Erik Johnson, while Jack Johnson did not participate in rushes.

Jack Johnson played just 11:26 on Saturday, the lowest amount of any American defenseman.

It also appears that winger Kyle Palmieri, a 30-goal scorer for the Devils last season, could be entering the lineup.

David Backes played a team-low 6:35 against Team Europe, so he’s the most obvious candidate to come out.

P.S. — Patrick Kane with Derek Stepan and Justin Abdelkader is an….um….interesting combination.

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

Report: Fleischmann headed to Minnesota on PTO

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 15: Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against Tomas Fleischmann #12 of  the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on April 15, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)

Thomas Fleischmann has reportedly chosen to accept a professional tryout with the Minnesota Wild.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman tweeted the news today, noting that Fleischmann has a history with Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. The two were together for a number of seasons in Washington, preceded by a couple of seasons with AHL Hershey.

Fleischmann’s best NHL season under Boudreau came in 2009-10 when he had 23 goals and 28 assists in 69 games. The Capitals traded him to Colorado the following season, in return for defenseman Scott Hannan.

Since the start of 2013-14, Fleischmann has just 30 goals in 222 games, for four different teams. He split last season between Montreal and Chicago.

According to Fleischmann’s agent, eight teams were willing to give the 32-year-old winger a tryout.

With the desperate Americans up next, Babcock warns against Canadian complacency

Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock talks to players during a training session ahead of the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The eulogies are already being written for Team USA, but Mike Babcock doesn’t want to read them. Team Canada’s head coach has plenty of experience in short, best-on-best tournaments like the World Cup, and he knows one game doesn’t mean much. The Americans may have looked dismal in losing to Team Europe on Saturday, but that only means they’ll be more desperate against his squad on Tuesday.

“You know, I’ve been to a number of these events, and the team that loses today usually gets better tomorrow, and the team that wins today usually gets a little fatter tomorrow,” Babcock said. “The important thing to do is just live scared and get better tomorrow.”

The Canadians hammered the Czechs, 6-0, on Saturday. It was a convincing victory, and Sidney Crosby was brilliant in it.

Which is to say, it was a far cry from how the Canadians opened the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where they squeaked out a 3-1 victory over the minnows from Norway. The Canadians went on to win the gold medal, and they didn’t lose a single game. But they didn’t fill the net like many expected them to, and they played under intense scrutiny the entire time. Who knows? Maybe all that scrutiny helped them stay the right level of “scared”.

As for the Americans, head coach John Tortorella is pulling out all the motivational stops, calling Tuesday’s showdown “our championship game.”

But more motivation won’t cure all that ailed the Americans in a 3-0 loss to the Europeans. Team USA will have to play a lot smarter, too. On Saturday, it was a 2-on-1 that led to the first goal against, and a 2-on-0 that put them behind by two. Europe was then able to focus on defending, surrendering quite a few shots but not so many prime scoring opportunities.

“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 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.”

Depending what happens in today’s game between Team Europe and the Czech Republic, the Americans could be officially eliminated with a loss to Canada. That would be a disastrously quick exit for a squad that entered the World Cup with the motto, “It’s time,” and it would represent a massive failure by the general manager, Dean Lombardi, and head coach, Tortorella, not to mention all the players.

And that’s exactly why Babcock expects the Americans to be better. A desperate team can be a dangerous team. And a comfortable team can be vulnerable.

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

After shocking the Americans, Team Europe is hungry for more

Team Europe's Marion Gaborik scores on United States' goalie Jonathan Quick during the first period of a World Cup of Hockey game, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

For Team Europe, a win this afternoon over the Czech Republic would practically assure it a spot in the World Cup semifinals.

Practically, because it wouldn’t guarantee anything. Even with a win, there’s still a slight chance that a team could fail to advance from the group with a 2-1-0 record, and Team Europe has to play the Canadians on Wednesday.

But after shocking the Americans, 3-0, on Saturday, a Team Europe win today, combined with a Team USA loss to the Canadians tomorrow, and coach Ralph Krueger’s squad would be officially through.

“We’ve come here to play nine periods, and like everybody else, we want to play next weekend,” Krueger said Saturday. “That was from the get-go the reason for us to be here. We didn’t see ourselves as just a sideshow, ever.”

Many had counted them out after they struggled to keep up with Team North America in exhibition play. The Europeans looked old and slow against the kids, and maybe even a bit disinterested. Of course, as the Finns found out last night, keeping up with the kids is one tough assignment.

“Well, if you look at our exhibition games,” said Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak, “obviously the first two games, they didn’t go as planned, and we all knew we had to get better and in what areas we had to improve. Playing Sweden the last exhibition game, it was a good test for us, and I think for the most part we did a good job. We stayed as a unit of five, and I think the key is staying most of the time, out of the box.”

The challenge for Team Europe against the Czechs will be to avoid a letdown.

“We didn’t just come here to have one nice game,” said Krueger. “We came here to compete and be around next weekend. So now we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The Czechs, meanwhile, will be playing for their tournament lives, after getting blown out, 6-0, by the Canadians on Saturday. They’ll look to recreate the enthusiasm and confidence of the first 10 minutes against the favorites, while forgetting what happened in the last 50.

“I believe we were ready to play,” said coach Vinny Prospal. “But after the first goal, it almost seems like we stopped playing and started making bad plays, and they filled our net.”