The first official game of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey features Team USA taking on Team Europe in Group A action.

Team USA has decided to leave some skilled players at home in favour of a top 6/bottom 6 design — seemingly an effort to combat the loaded offensive powerhouse of the tournament, Team Canada, with the thinking being that there’s no way to go head-to-head with the Canadians on skill alone.

The game plan appears to center around bullying their way to a gold medal while leaning heavily on goaltending. It has worked, to some degree, in the pre-tournament. Team USA split a pair of back-to-back games with Team Canada in what was a tremendously physical affair, but it seemed a rusty Carey Price and a razor sharp Jonathan Quick had more to do with the outcome in Team Canada’s loss than the physical or intimidation factor.

Twitter was ablaze today with news that defenceman Dustin Byfuglien will be scratched for this afternoon’s game against Team Europe. For those familiar with John Tortorella, this should not come as a surprise, as he frequently scratches excellent players as a message-sending exercise. In this case, it’s cutting off the nose to spite the face — Team USA’s roster isn’t nearly good enough to be taking what can be a dominant physical and offensive force out of the lineup. ‘Big Buff’ can carry a shift and be a game breaker for any team in this tournament.

Team Europe has looked overmatched by skill and speed in the tune-up games, and despite some suspect roster decisions Team USA still has plenty of that. Team North America made them look like an aging and slow outfit, but they were able to beat Team Sweden handily by a score of 6-2 — so it may be a case of system adjustments and getting the comparatively older players acclimatized to the pace of play. They enter the tournament third from bottom in @omgitsdomi‘s odds rankings based on Game Score:

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Team United States Projected Lineup

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Zach PariseRyan KeslerBlake Wheeler
Justin AbdelkaderDerek StepanPatrick Kane
James van RiemsdykJoe PavelskiT.J. Oshie
Max PaciorettyDavid BackesKyle Palmieri
Left DefenseRight Defense
Ryan SuterErik Johnson
Ryan McDonaghJohn Carlson
Matt NiskanenDustin Byfuglien
Jonathan Quick
Cory Schneider

Team Europe Projected Lineup

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Tomas TatarAnze KopitarMarian Hossa
Nino NiederreiterFrans NielsenMats Zuccarello
Thomas VanekLeon DraisaitlTobias Rieder
Mikkel BoedkerPierre-Edouard BellemareJannik Hansen
Left DefenseRight Defense
Zdeno CharaAndrej Sekera
Roman JosiDennis Seidenberg
Christian EhrhoffMark Streit
Jaroslav Halak