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Dustin Byfuglien surprise scratch for Team USA at World Cup

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Like other teams in the World Cup of Hockey, Team USA is carrying extra players. They all can’t play. So a forward and a goalie and a defenseman are all going to sit during each of the tournament’s games, barring some unforeseen lineup gimmickry from the coach.

Team USA opens against Europe on Saturday afternoon in Toronto, under head coach John Tortorella. Cory Schneider, the New Jersey Devils’ goalie, will sit. Kyle Palmieri, another Devil, will sit. (Say, didn’t Tortorella coach the Rangers?)

But the lineup move that’s gotten the most attention is the scratching of Dustin Byfuglien. Specifically, Byfuglien sitting and Jack Johnson playing on defense, considering one is quite good and the other is Jack Johnson.

“It’s just the way it worked out,” said Torotella. “Through the games, through the minutes that the guys played, we felt to start the tournament this would be our lineup.”

Byfuglien played three games and was a minus-2 for Team USA. Tortorella used him at forward in the team’s exhibition game against Finland in Washington, DC. “We’re still trying to make some decisions on where people fit and in our mind we always felt Buff was kind of a wild card moving into a couple of different positions, so we’ll see,” said Tortorella on Tuesday.

Byfuglien said playing forward wasn’t something he enjoyed. On Saturday, Byfuglien is a scratch.

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 9: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of Team USA skates with the puck against Team Canada on September 9, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH – SEPTEMBER 9: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of Team USA skates with the puck against Team Canada on September 9, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images)

Tortorella said that it wasn’t that Byfuglien “didn’t do the things we were looking” for him to do. “As we went through our lineup and the situations that we may get involved with – power play, penalty killing and all that – we felt this was our lineup to start the tournament. Could change as we go through,” he said.

If it was a decision between Johnson and Byfuglien, there are two words that come to mind. The first is “Columbus,” where Tortorella coaches and Johnson plays for him. (And he played for Team USA GM Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles.)

The second is “conditioning,” which is even more speculative. Byfuglien’s preseason conditioning has been an issue in the past, and one wonders if the experiment at forward wasn’t an attempt to compensate for that, considering he’s demonstrably better on defense in the NHL. (And he only played 9:07 at even strength in that game, following 16:03 and 14:39 at EV in the previous two games as a defenseman.)

Team USA faces Europe at 3 p.m. in Toronto.

Additional reporting by Josh Cooper.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.