In Game 2 of Group A action, Team Canada faces off against Team USA in what is already an elimination game for the Americans.

Two long-time rivals with divergent roster composition philosophies and contrasting skills sets will do battle Tuesday night in what promises to be a hotly-contested matchup.

Start time: 8:00 p.m. EST (Sportsnet)

Team USA

USA forward Patrick Kane, right, greets USA goaltender Jonathan Quick after Finland beat the USA 5-0 in the men's bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
USA forward Patrick Kane, right, greets USA goaltender Jonathan Quick after Finland beat the USA 5-0 in the men’s bronze medal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

No team in this tournament has faced anywhere near the level of scrutiny Team USA has received for their roster selection and lineup choices / scratches. Among the fantastic players absent from their roster: Phil Kessel, who was named the best forward of the Sochi Olympics and was in the running for the Conn Smythe in Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup win last June; Kevin Shattenkirk, perhaps the premiere present-day American defenceman and a right shot to boot; defenceman Justin Faulk (another righty), scorer of 16 goals in 2015-16, as well as Torey Krug and Tyler Johnson.

Team USA’s management group has focused on building a team that can out-check other teams, forgoing a higher skilled alternative despite a shifting dynamic in roster construction in the modern game that rewards puck-moving defenceman who can handle the puck well, skate it out of trouble, and get it into the hands of skilled players (like Kessel or Johnson).

Compounding the initial roster selection question marks is a head coach that aggressively scratches and/or calls out his best players in an attempt to evoke more emotion and effort. Just as the game now rewards speed and skill more than ever before, the coaching dynamic has also changed and a “one-size-fits-all” coaching mantra rarely yields results. Rather than evolve his craft to suit the modern-day player, John Tortorella seems to have doubled down on what made him successful 12 years ago.

Tortorella has called out James van Riemsdyk (prior to scratching him and banishing him to the fourth line in the pre-tournament), Max Pacioretty, and the offensively-gifted Dustin Byfuglien (a Game 1 scratch). He also started the U.S. goalie with the worst numbers across virtually every metric in Jonathan Quick, while one of the top three goalies in the NHL over the last few years, Cory Schneider, opened the bench door in a baseball cap.

Another day brings more scratches for tonight versus Canada: Sitting are Blue Jackets Brandon Dubinsky and Jack Johnson (an easy argument could be made that neither should’ve made the team in a best-on-best tournament). Big Buff will now enter tournament play cold against a dominant juggernaut in Team Canada.

Further compounding the problem for Team USA are the systemic issues. In a league where every coach has devised plans to control play through the neutral zone and challenge rush chances at the blueline, Team USA (like Tortorella’s Columbus Blue Jackets) is a team with a heavy forecheck, often times sending in two men in an attempt to force turnovers out of the opposition D. The downside to this approach is that the middle of the ice can be left open and counter attacks can easily be generated through the middle of the ice — playing into the hands of a Mike Babcock-coached team that can and will use a “bump play” to break out through the middle.

Much of the forechecking from Tortorella-coached teams is generated off of dump-ins, which has been shown statistically to be a worse option than using a controlled carry—further compounding some of the team’s possession issues. A knock-on effect is less structure through the neutral zone, which can make defending a difficult task for defencemen who normally expect more support from centers and wingers coming back.

Team Canada

We’ve laid out some of issues hindering Team USA, but they were able to beat up on Canada a little bit in the pre-tournament opener, although their win appeared to have more to do with an off game from Carey Price in his first competitive action since November.

With both teams rested and Price back on form, the expectation is that Canada will dominate this game. They have shown — with largely the same on and off-ice personnel from the Sochi Olympics in place at the World Cup of Hockey — that hockey perfection is only a moment’s notice away with this team.

The last time these two sides faced off for real — the Sochi Olympics — we witnessed a coaching clinic for the ages. While the score was 1-0, a master coach exerted his dominance over every minute detail of the game. Shift lengths as short as 30-35 seconds, with four lines of fast, skilled and detailed players coming at the opposition in waves. Line changes practiced over and over to ensure players are off the ice and replaced by fresh legs in their correct position as expediently as possible. Pre-scouts on opposing breakouts for every eventuality. An airtight neutral zone with suffocating defence and breathtaking puck movement in Canada’s own zone, allowing them to break out with efficacy.

These tactics should be even more effective on the North American ice surface than they were in Sochi.  The fast but stifling brand of hockey that Babcock’s Team Canada is known for should be on full display tonight.

The lineup will go unchanged from Canada’s emphatic win over the Czechs.

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 Canada Projected Lineup

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Brad MarchandSidney CrosbyPatrice Bergeron
John TavaresRyan GetzlafSteven Stamkos
Logan CoutureJonathan ToewsCorey Perry
Joe ThorntonRyan O'ReillyMatt Duchene
Left DefenceRight Defence
Alex PietrangeloBrent Burns
Marc-Edward VlasicShea Weber
Jay BoumeesterDrew Doughty
Carey Price