STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jonathan Quick’s sublime play in a Team USA jersey outweighed some recent struggles with the Los Angeles Kings as coach John Tortorella named him the starting goaltender going into the World Cup of Hockey.
Tortorella called his choice of Quick over Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider “a very tough decision,” but it’s not the most difficult facing some of the other eight teams in the World Cup. Goalie situations are finally coming into clear focus with the tournament beginning Saturday, and some decisions are easier than others.
Carey Price is a no-brainer for Canada and Henrik Lundqvist for Sweden. Matt Murray should be the man for Team North America, and coach Ralph Krueger confirmed Jaroslav Halak will start for Team Europe in its opener against the United States on Saturday.
Quick’s .954 save percentage in exhibition games and his dominant performance at the Sochi Olympics made the decision easy for Tortorella, even if Bishop and Schneider have been more consistent in the NHL lately.
“I believe in the body of work from all three goalies,” Tortorella said. “I think Jonathan has just done a little bit better than the other guys, so he’ll be our No. 1 guy to start the tournament.”
Murray seems to have earned the nod for the North American team made up for 23-and-under U.S. and Canadian players by winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and by playing well in exhibition action. He stopped 16 of 17 shots in an exhibition loss to the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
“I’m not prepared to anoint him yet … but I think you had very good eyes, you saw him play extremely well,” coach Todd McLellan said. “That’s the same thing we saw. Odds are he’s our guy, but we have to respect the process.”
Other teams haven’t had such strong play in net.
Goaltending is typically Finland’s strength, but neither Pekka Rinne nor Tuukka Rask has stood out. Rinne stopped 26 of 29 shots against the U.S. and seems a good bet, but coach Lauri Marjamaki wouldn’t say.
Krueger was cleared about Halak getting the call over Thomas Greiss and Philipp Grubauer.
“It would be silly to play any type of games,” Krueger said after Halak stopped 34 of 36 shots to beat Sweden on Wednesday night.
Michal Neuvirth vs. Petr Mrazek is coming down to the wire for the Czech Republic. Neuvirth allowed one goal on 36 shots in exhibition play and is expected to start Saturday against Canada, which got another brilliant performance from Price against Russia on Wednesday night.
Despite losing to Canada, Sergei Bobrovsky looks to have the edge over Semyon Varlamov for the Russians, who play Sweden on Sunday.
Sweden, had the easiest decision in the tournament with Lundqvist, even after he was pulled in the third period of a 6-2 loss to Europe. Lundqvist allowed five goals on 22 shots but is unquestionably the starter ahead of Jacob Markstrom and Jhonas Enroth.
“Definitely, we have a No. 1. We have a clear No. 1,” Swedish coach Rickard Gronborg said. “I feel like we have a pretty stable situation.”
Stability in goal could be the difference in a short tournament with just three preliminary-round games for each team. The U.S. has no guarantee of that and Tortorella couched that “a lot of things can happen” to shake up his goalie picture.
For now, it’s Quick, who U.S. captain Joe Pavelski said was locked in for the first exhibition game against Canada. The Americans need him to stay locked in to have a chance to win.
“That’s the goalie that we feel that shows up in those games,” Pavelski said. “In Sochi you definitely saw his game rise. He’s always been tremendous and his playoffs have spoken for itself over the years and over their runs that L.A. has made. It’s pretty cool to have him on your side and see his game elevate.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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