Blashill finding right mix for streaking Team USA

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
U.S. forward Anders Lee, center, celebrates with US forward Dylan Larkin, left, after scoring in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Russia.

Detroit – The task coach Jeff Blashill and his Team USA staff had heading into the world championships was finding chemistry quick.

At this particular tournament you have players from different NHL teams and European leagues all combined together representing their countries on short notice.

You even have players joining national teams when their NHL teams are eliminated in the playoffs.

But heading into Thursday’s quarterfinals against Finland (10:15 a.m./NBC Sports Network), it’s obvious Blashill – who is part of the Red Wings’ contingent on Team USA along with players Dylan Larkin, Jimmy Howard and Danny DeKeyser – has been able to find the right mix.

“You have to find chemistry quick, and then you add the challenge of adding guys at different times and that can disrupt your chemistry or give you opportunities for new chemistry,” Blashill told NHL Network Radio Wednesday. “We tried to find some chemistry, we tried to find forward pairs and keep them together and we’ve been able to do that throughout the tournament.”

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Larkin’s play has been a huge plus for Team USA.

After a good ending to an otherwise subpar regular season, Larkin has continued to excel at the world championships with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in seven games with a plus-7 plus-minus rating.

“It was important for Dylan to play here. He was playing his best hockey at the end of the year for us,” Blashill said. “He went through some challenges this year, and to me, they were expected. It was part of the process. Everything went so well the first year, I knew there would be times this year he was going to have to learn some lessons and be that complete 200-foot player that I know he is.

“By the end of the year, he was a way better player than at the beginning of the year. He really put himself into position to be a great, two-way player and that’s played out through this tournament. He’s been going out against the other team’s best players and been able to keep them off the scoreboard while contributing offensively.

“I’m certainly happy for that from a Detroit perspective.”

Howard has starred in net, with a .923 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average.

Team USA has won six consecutive games after losing its tournament opener against host Germany.

Defeating Russia, 5-3, on Tuesday gave USA the first seed in Group A, although Finland (4-2-1) is hardly a typical fourth seed.

“Anybody who has played internationally against the Finnish team knows they’re going to play extremely hard and will be hard to penetrate, hard to get to the inside against,” Blashill said. “It’ll be a tough game. We have to play our best hockey. Anytime you get to a one-and-done situation, and I’ve done that in college (hockey), you can play a great game and lose, and that’s the reality.

“In the NHL, you have get six more opportunities (games in a playoff series). In a one-and-done situation, you can’t leave anything to chance.”

Twitter: @tkulfan