The U.S. National Junior Team finds itself on the cusp of the relegation round for the second consecutive year when it faces Slovakia on Monday at 5 a.m. ET at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Both teams have three points in Group B and need a victory to reach the quarterfinals. The Americans defeated Germany in the opening game before consecutive 2-1 losses to Russia and Canada. Slovakia took Russia to overtime and led Canada before losing the lead and ultimately the game. The Slovaks had trouble with Germany and needed overtime Sunday night to gain the victory.
The Americans have faced Slovakia 12 times in the tournament and have won eight times. The last time the teams met in 2010, Team USA won 6-1, which avenged a 5-3 quarterfinal loss in 2009.
Slovakia's leading scorer is forward Marko Dano, who has two goals and three assists. In goal, Slovakia has gone with Adam Nagy for every minute of the tournament. He has a 3.22 goals against average but was very strong against Russia and Canada to keep his team close.
The formula for Slovakia will be much the same against the U.S. that it was against Russia and Canada; tight defense and wait to counter attack.
The Americans have been peppering goaltenders with shots, but are snake bitten when it comes to putting the puck in the goal. Team USA ranks third in the tournament with 125 shots on goal, but seventh in scoring efficiency. Fortunately for the U.S., Slovakia is ninth in the same category.
Team USA players and coaches spoke at length last night about needing to score "greasy" goals as John Gaudreau stated (See Video).
"When we get the pucks in there we have to battle," Housley said. "We just have to keep focusing on getting pucks and bodies to the net."
Rocco Grimaldi, who has yet to score a goal, said the key is to pile on the shots and then shoot some more.
"Just keep shooting," he said. "Not pick corners as much, just fire it at the net."
The U.S. has the goaltending advantage over every team but Russia statistically, although some would argue that John Gibson has been the tournament's best goaltender. Gibson has a 1.52 goals against average and has made numerous big saves to keep the U.S. close against Russia and Canada.
Head coach Phil Housley praised Gibson's play after both games and he will need another solid game for the Americans to reach the quarterfinals.