Malcolm Subban has often been pointed out as a weak point on Canada's World Junior Championship roster, but he was stellar in goal for his team early Sunday morning, making 36 saves in a 2-1 win over the United States in preliminary round action.
Subban's fine play was the biggest reason the Canadians were able to pull three points away from the Americans, clinching a spot in the medal round and forcing the USA into a must-win situation against Slovakia on Monday.
The United States struggled through much of the game. Early defensive struggles led to both Canadian goals in the first period -- one from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the other from Ryan Strome -- and the only reason the game failed to get out of hand early was the fine play of American goaltender John Gibson.
When the USA settled in for the second period, they were able to control possession but inept at finding holes in the Canadian defense. They peppered Subban with shots, but even on lengthy power play opportunities were unable to get rebounds and second chances at the net.
Canada sealed up even tighter to being the third period and it looked as if they were going to frustrate the Americans on their way to a relatively comfortable 2-0 win, but the tables turned with about nine minutes remaining in the game. The Canadians broke out on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush, but a big stop by Gibson sprung his teammates on a 4-on-2 rush the other way.
American star Alex Galchenyuk, who had been noticeably quiet throughout the game thanks to some curious personnel decisions from coach Phil Housley, fed WInnipeg Jets prospect Jacob Trouba for the goal to cut the Canadian lead to 2-1.
The U.S. came out flying following the goal, but perhaps got a bit too excited. Jake McCabe led a parade to the penalty box with a checking to the head penalty just 1:04 after the goal, and he was quickly followed to the box by Tyler Biggs, Ryan Hartman and Trouba and Vince Trocheck. All were silly, unnecessary penalties.
Somehow, the Americans killed off a two-minute-long two-man Canadian advantage, and then Nugent-Hopkins got a bit too ahead of himself as well, breathing new life into the USA squad with a boarding penalty at 18:23. The U.S. put plenty of pucks on Subban's goal during the power play, but ultimately were unable to solve him once more.
While the Canadians prepare for a game against Russia to close out the preliminary round, the United States finds themselves in a head-to-head battle against a Slovakia team that's caused fits against the other contenders in Group B so far. The USA needs to beat Slovakia on Monday to advance to the medal round, and it doesn't appear as though that will be an easy task.