By Sean Hartnett
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The United States will need exceptional goaltending if it stands any chance of medaling at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.
General manager Dean Lombardi and head coach John Tortorella have assembled a roster that is built to play a grinding style rather than one that can go skill-for-skill with the world’s best.
Offense-generating stars Phil Kessel, Tyler Johnson, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Faulk have been left at home in favor a number of role players who fit Tortorella’s penchant for physicality, shot blocking and slowing down the opposition. Speedy, possession-oriented defensemen who can move the puck quickly out of the zone have been hallmarks of winning teams in the modern era.
Tortorella’s collapsing defensive system and the roster selection means it’s likely that the Americans will be heavily outshot when they play tournament heavyweights. This isn’t going to be a team that generates a lot of offensive zone time and it figures to struggle against the firepower of Canada, Sweden, Russia and possibly the collection of goal-getters on the Under-23 North American Team.
Given the makeup of the roster, the margin for error is going to be incredibly slim. The United States will need its starting goaltender to steal games on his own. Tortorella has yet to announce his No. 1. netminder out of a strong trio of Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop. But, Schneider deserves to get the nod as the starter given the way he flat-out stole games for the Devils last season.
New Jersey ranked last in goals scored, goals per game and shots per game, while ranking eighth in goals allowed per game. Schneider, 30, posted a remarkable .924 save percentage, good for fourth-best in the league on a team that struggled to create offensive zone time and chances. His 2.15 goals-against average also ranked fourth and his four shutouts were tied for eighth.
No goaltender will be more important to his club than Schneider. He continually kept New Jersey in games in which it was heavily outshot. He carried the offensively-deficient Devils, a team that had no business being in the playoff race until April 2.
“Away from the ice, you see how much (Schneider) cares and how much of a professional he is,” Devils and USA teammate Kyle Palmieri told The New York Times in February. “With a goalie with the workload he has, it’s incredible that he brings his ‘A’ game every night. He doesn’t have nights off. He’s a guy a lot of goalies can learn from.”
Team USA is short on talent, short on speed and short on offense. If Schneider gets the bulk of the time between the pipes, he will give the Americans a chance to defy expectations and grab an unexpected win or two against superior foes.
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