Sample size. It's the new buzzword on the lips of every insider, scout and writer about the unlikely performances we've seen at this tournament so far.
It's why Malcolm Subban's stellar performance against the Americans on Sunday came as such a surprise after two "shaky" outings in which he allowed three goals to Germany and Slovakia. Nevermind that he's had a fantastic year to date with Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League. But more than anything, it's also being used as an apologetic crutch for the subpar play of United States defenseman Seth Jones.
Jones, who riled up a number of people outside USA Hockey by claiming the Americans were the team to beat heading into the tournament, has been a contributing factor to each one-goal loss his team has suffered in the last three days. Jones was beaten on what turned out to be the game-winning goal both times, but the consensus top-two pick in June's upcoming NHL Entry Draft is merely "not playing like himself."
Instead of putting his money where his mouth is, he opted instead to insert his foot.
Now, we all have bad days at work. Who isn't human? And to suggest that Seth Jones' gaffes are the only reason the Americans are looking at a win-or-go home game against Slovakia tomorrow would just be silly.
After all, has anyone else noticed that Jon Gaudreau has been virtually invisible now that he's not able to dance around everyone like he does in Hockey East? Or how about the onslaught of penalties the preceeded the United States' final power play with 1:37 to play? The power play itself, with the exception of Jacob Trouba, has been abysmal.
The point is, in the wake of a pair of one-goal losses finger-pointing is useless. But had it not been for John Gibson early, a few more mistakes by Jones and his defensive colleagues would've ended up in their own net and this game would've quickly become a rout.
Take a look at this end-to-end rush by 17-year old Valeri Nichushkin on Russia's game-winning goal in the third period on Friday. Granted, Nichushkin skates around four Americans as if they were traffic cones, including Jones. But to allow the player to beat you to the outside that deep in the zone with enough room to cut up through the crease and create havoc around your net is troubling for a player who's supposed to have such good hockey sense.
Now here's Canada's second goal in the first period on Sunday. Notice how before Ritchie goes around the net, Jones takes note that Strome is breaking toward the crease. He sees him there. Nothing to worry about, right?
Wrong. As the play develops and Ritchie emerges from the other side of the goal, Strome is left alone enough that he can get good enough wood on the puck to beat Gibson, even with Jones standing right next to him. Without putting a finger on him, Jones allowed Strome to give Canada a 2-0 lead.
The first video is an example of a physical mistake, which will happen from time-to-time at every level of hockey. That, as painful as it may be, is forgivable. But the mental mistakes are the ones for which players are most held accountable. He simply cannot continue to let that happen. Expect both of these plays to be part of a greater learning experience for Jones, even though it comes at the team's expense for now.
Jones rebounded nicely in the third period after taking a bad slashing penalty in the second. Head coach Phil Housley and the Americans are hoping he's found his way out of this slump. He may not have been wrong about the Americans being the best team in this tournament, but for that to be true, he's got to raise his level of play significantly from where it currently stands.