The push for a medal continues for Team USA in Tuesday night’s game against Team Slovakia. It will be a late one with an 11:10 p.m. ET puck drop, but this one has a lot of intrigue from an Olympics standpoint, and also an NHL standpoint.
The Americans got a bye into the quarterfinals by winning Group A, so we’ve reached the “win or go home” round of the tournament. The winner of this game will face the winner of the ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) vs. Denmark game in the semifinals on Thursday.
Odds are from DraftKings Sportsbook.
Slovakia (+ 175) vs. USA (-215); Total: 5.5 (OV -115)
The Americans have 16 players that are aged 23 or under and a lot of collegiate players that will be making an impact in the National Hockey League very soon. As of Tuesday morning, head coach David Quinn had not named a starting goalie, but it was Strauss Mann that had the net against Team Canada. Drew Commesso, one of those players that could be in the NHL soon, got the starts against China and Germany.
Mann was solid against Canada with 35 saves on 37 shots after bouncing back from a really bad goal just 1:24 into the game. The Canadians did hit several posts and had 17 shots on goal in the third period, but Mann stopped them all en route to the win. Quinn trusts either option, but my guess is Mann since he got the Canada assignment against the best team that the Americans have faced to this point.
The U.S. team did not play particularly well against Germany in a 3-2 win to end Group Play, as they looked sluggish coming off of the Canada victory. That was to be expected, but they’ll have to get the legs going against an opponent that has played quite well in this tournament.
Slovakia is led by a couple of 17-year-olds in Simon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovsky, who are both projected to be top-10 picks in the upcoming July NHL Draft. Slafkovsky is actually tied with Lucas Wallmark for the most goals in the tournament with four, though he has played one more game. The Slovakian Under-18 team made the final game of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last year, largely because of those two budding stars.
In this tournament, Slovakia is 2-2, with the two losses to global hockey powers Finland and Sweden. Despite the lopsided final scores, the Slovaks more than held their own offensively, racking up 41 shots in a 4-1 loss to Sweden and outshooting Group C winner Finland 33-30 in a 6-2 loss. In the other two games, the Slovaks beat Latvia and Germany by a combined score of 9-2.
Head coach Craig Ramsay seems to have settled on Patrik Rybar in net after his other two goaltenders struggled in those losing efforts. Rybar, however, only faced 41 total shots in those games against Latvia and Germany. He’ll be tested a lot more here.
I like the over in this game. The Slovakian team has some offensive punch. The best attributes for the Americans are their speed and skill and those things overwhelmed the Slovakian defense and goaltending in the games against Finland and Sweden. The Americans are probably the fastest team in the tournament, so I expect them to create opportunities.
Team USA should also win and advance, but the -215 is a little steep. I think rooting for goals is the better option.
Pick: Over 5.5