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Team USA

Team USA faces must-win game

Must lean on Patrick Kane, make life difficult for Team Canada on Tuesday

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TORONTO -- This is what the United States coach said before the game against Canada:

"They have more skill, and they're a deeper team," he said. "But we're a harder team to play against. We're going to match up and go toe-to-toe with them that way."

That wasn't Team USA coach John Tortorella talking about facing Team Canada at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports) in the preliminary round of the World Cup of Hockey 2016, although it could have been.

That was Dan Bylsma before the semifinals of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The United States brought the kind of roster many think Team USA should have brought to this tournament, with skilled players like Phil Kessel, Paul Stastny and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Canada won 1-0. It had a 37-31 edge in shots. But the game wasn't as close as that makes it seem. Canada dominated with its talent and depth, dictating a high-tempo pace even on the larger international ice, coming in waves, smothering the United States.

Video: Recap: Halak, Team Europe shut out USA 3-0

"Our performance in Sochi with Team Canada was the most cerebral, structured performance you will ever see in hockey probably ever again," said Ralph Krueger, a consultant for Canada in Sochi and the coach of Team Europe for the World Cup. "I get goosebumps thinking about how it was art. It was pure art how we ran through those games.

"Like, the U.S. semifinal was the most dominant 1-0 win in the history of the game. There wasn't even a second where we thought we would lose that game, you know?"

Team USA executives and coaches put together a grittier roster for the World Cup. They figured they would have to go through Team Canada to win and their best chance was not trying to defeat Team Canada at its own game (or trying to be hard to play against with players who aren't, well, hard to play against), especially on the smaller NHL rink.

If Team Canada is art, get in the paint. If Team Canada is a machine, throw a wrench in it.

The strategy is in serious question after Team USA's 3-0 loss to Team Europe on Saturday in its first game of the preliminary round. Team USA is now in a must-win situation already.

But Team USA didn't play with the identity it was built to have against Team Europe for whatever reason, and if it can do what it was designed to do and defeat Team Canada, it still has a shot.

Here is what Team USA needs to do (other than have goaltender Jonathan Quick steal one):

Lean on Patrick Kane: Team USA has one of the best players in the world, a guy who has won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and is the reigning winner of the Hart Trophy as the League's MVP. He had 17 more points than any other player in the League last season. He can make up a lot of skill deficiency all by himself.

Tortorella raised eyebrows by putting Kane on a line with Justin Abdelkader and Derek Stepan in practice Sunday and Monday. But Abdelkader forechecks and causes havoc in front of the net, and Tortorella has said he will use Kane as a "rover." He needs to double-shift him. He needs to put him in positions to have the puck with playmakers.

"I'm going to bounce him around, and it could be on a lot of different lines," Tortorella said. "This is a tough tournament to get your guys the ice time that they're used to. I've got to pick certain guys in my lineup that I'm going to find them ice time no matter what, and Kaner is one of those guys."

Video: USA@EUR: Halak slides to break up Kane's pass

Make life difficult: "Hard to play against" should not mean hitting for the sake of hitting and scrumming after whistles.

Team Canada's forwards backcheck hard, and its defensemen gap up tightly. "They try to take away a lot of time and space," Team USA forward T.J. Oshie said. "So when you play Canada, you always feel crowded a little bit, and [in Sochi], I feel like we just didn't have an answer for it. We just felt there was no room on the ice."

Team USA needs to get the puck past the Team Canada defense and get in on the forecheck, hitting to cause turnovers and prevent clean exits. It needs to get the puck to the net with traffic, working hard for tips and rebounds. That's the best hope of beating goaltender Carey Price.

"It's just willing to be there [in front of the net]," Tortorella said. "The more important thing is willing to stay there. That's going to be a big part of the game. It's always a big part of the game between the U.S. and Canada. If we want an opportunity to try to compete and win this game, we need to be there."

Walk the line: Team Canada is too structured and talented for Team USA to take risks with the puck. Turnovers and odd-man rushes cost Team USA against Team Europe. Imagine how it could cost Team USA against Team Canada. "We need to read plays a little bit better, and our third [forward] certainly has to be more disciplined," Tortorella said.

The physical play cannot lead to too many penalties. Team Canada puts out a power-play unit of Drew Doughty, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews, and that's the second unit. The first unit is Brent Burns, Steven Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton. Team Canada went 2-for-3 on the power play in a 6-0 victory against Team Czech Republic on Saturday.

Fix the power play: Team Canada gave Team Czech Republic six power plays on Saturday. Team USA needs to take advantage of whatever it gets considering how hard it will be to score at even strength.

Team USA went 1-for-11 on the power play over three pretournament games and 0-for-4 against Team Europe, but it looks like Tortorella and assistant coach Phil Housley will make changes.

Video: USA@EUR: van Riemsdyk's goal disallowed after review

Forward Kyle Palmieri, who scored 30 goals in the NHL last season, including 11 on the power play, was at the top of the left circle on the first unit in practice Sunday and Monday. Dustin Byfuglien, who has a booming shot and was the highest-scoring American defenseman in the NHL last season with 53 points, was in the same spot on the second unit. Both were scratched Saturday.

Forward Joe Pavelski, the best in the game at tipping pucks, moved from the left circle to the slot on the first unit.

Rise to the occasion: It's one game. Anything can happen. Make it happen.

"If you can't get motivated to do your best in this type of situation with the environment that's going to be there Tuesday night, there's something the matter with you, we've got the wrong guy," Tortorella said. "And I don't think we've got the wrong guys."

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