TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 17: Max Pacioretty #67, T.J. Oshie #74, Patrick Kane #88 and Justin Abdelkader #89 of Team USA line up prior to the game against Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images)
TORONTO – What’s the thinking in promoting checking winger Justin Abdelkader to Patrick Kane’s line for Team USA’s do-or-die showdown against Canada on Tuesday night?
“There isn’t any thinking. You’re overthinking it,” said coach John Tortorella.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The thought is that Abdelkader, who scored 19 goals in 82 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season, has earned the lofty spot in the lineup, skating with Kane and Derek Stepan.
“I just think Abby needs to be moved up in our lineup. Where he was in a third- or fourth-line role, I think he’s going to get a little more ice time,” said Tortorella. “I just think Abby has given us some forechecking. As held onto the puck more than some other guys. He just deserves to play more.”
Lest anyone think that using a “fourth liner” like Abdelkader on a skill line will hinder the skill of someone like Kane, The Red Wings forward is quick to mention that he’s lined up with skills players throughout his tenure in Detroit.
“I’ve played with some good players in Detroit and it’s similar to him. You want the puck on his stick. But you can’t just think you’re going to throw pucks all the time at him. It’s the right opportunities. I think we’re a better team when Patrick Kane has the puck on his stick, that’s for sure,” he said.
“Wherever [Tortorella] uses me, wherever he puts me, I’ll be ready. I’m not going to change anything with my game. That’s how I play. I feel like my game I can play anywhere in the lineup and contribute. I’ll be ready for whatever comes.”
Stepan said that Abdelkader’s promotion didn’t surprise him, as a player who competed under Tortorella with the New York Rangers. “I’ve been with Torts for three years. That style. That working-hard attitude will move you up and down the lineup,” he said.
Of course, the other thing to know about Tortorella is that the lines he starts with may not be the lines he finishes with. Kane, for example, will be moved around the lineup, playing on several lines to maximize his ice time.
“Torts isn’t afraid to move guys at any point in the game. For the most part, the line combinations are just a starter piece for him in most games,” said Stepan.
It’s the essential Torts: Abdelkader gave the effort, so Abdelkader gets the ice time. Other players don’t give the effort, and even in what amounts to an elimination game against Canada, they’ll sit.
“This game … I’m not wasting much time. If guys aren’t willing to play, aren’t doing the things, we’re going to have a pretty short bench,” said Tortorella.
“We gotta win the game. We’re going to make decisions in a sprint mode.”
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