Opinion: Team USA’s Goaltending Could End Up Being Lights Out in NHL’s Four Nations Face-Off

Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images
Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

When it comes to international competition involving NHL players, especially goaltenders, it is usually hit and miss when it comes to Team USA because if their goaltenders do not play well, they usually fail to accomplish anything.

At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Team USA went 1-3 and were outscored 14-9 despite being heavily favored to be one of the top teams after winning the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. Their top players did not play well and their goaltender, Mike Richter, struggled to turn in the kind of performance he did just two years prior when he won the MVP award at the World Cup.

Four years later in Salt Lake City, things were much different for Team USA. They ended up winning the Silver Medal and got incredible goaltending from Richter, who was one of the best players in the tournament going 2-1-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.

Eight years later in Vancouver, Team USA won another Silver Medal on the back of goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller went 5-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage, and one shutout.

Coming up this February, the NHL will be holding its first 4 Nations Face-Off. In looking at the teams that will be involved with Team USA, Team Canada, Team Finland, and Team Sweden, there is no doubt that Team USA has the best goaltending.

In fact, with the goaltending that the team could end up having, there is a good chance that Team USA could end up winning the tournament. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who they might end up utilizing:

Connor Hellebuyck
It will more than likely be Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck who will end up being the team’s starter.

Hellebuyck, 31, recently won his second Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. He finished the season with a record of 37-19-0-4 with a 2.39 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage, and five shutouts.

He also has terrific career numbers as he currently has 275 wins, a 2.63 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage, and 37 career shutouts. Now, his play in the Stanley Cup playoffs has not exactly been spectacular, but when Team USA takes the ice for the first time on February 13 against Finland, it will more than likely be with Hellebuyck between the pipes.

Thatcher Demko
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko will almost certainly be on Team USA’s roster for this tournament.

He was a Vezina Trophy finalist this past season as he went 35-14-0-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage, and five shutouts. He was one of the main reasons why the Canucks had such a successful season and had he been healthy for the playoffs, the team could have ended up having a much different result.

Demko has also shown that he can play well come crunch time. In five playoff games, he is 3-1 with a 0.97 goals-against average, a .974 save percentage, and one shutout, so if he gets called on to play in this tournament, the team should rest easy knowing that they have Thatcher between the pipes.

Jake Oettinger
One of the main reasons why the Dallas Stars have been one of the league’s top teams over the past few seasons has been the play of their goaltender Jake Oettinger.

In 193 career games, Oettinger, 25, is currently 113-48-0-23 with a 2.51 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage, and 10 shutouts. He has also played extremely well in the postseason as he is currently 23-22 with a 2.46 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage, and two shutouts.

Though everything mentioned above is very impressive, he would more than likely end up being the team’s third goaltender behind Hellebuyck and Demko. With that said, if one of them falters or gets injured, Team USA should feel more than comfortable having Oettinger in goal for them.

Jeremy Swayman
Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman is the wild card here because when it comes down to it, there is a chance that he could end up playing better than Oettinger or even Demko.

In 132 career games, Swayman is 79-33-0-15 with a 2.34 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage, and 12 shutouts. He also showed that he can play well in big games as he was outstanding in the playoffs this past season going 6-6 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.

At just 25 years of age, Swayman could end up being the future of Team USA when it comes to their goaltending in future international competitions.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

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Patrick Hoffman

Patrick covers the NHL for Inside The Rink. He has previously covered the league for The Ultimate Hockey Fan Cave, WTP Sports, Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

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