By Stephen Whyno
AP Hockey Writer
TORONTO — With the United States facing elimination against Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, coach John Tortorella chose to scratch two players he’s very familiar with for the sake of what he hopes is the best lineup.
Center Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Jack Johnson will be scratched for the Americans’ must-win game against Canada on Tuesday night. Tortorella coaches those players in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets and knows Dubinsky well from their time together with the New York Rangers.
Winger Kyle Palmieri and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien replace Dubinsky and Johnson in the lineup after being out for the tournament-opening 3-0 loss to Team Europe. Jonathan Quick is expected to start in goal, with Ben Bishop backing up and Cory Schneider scratched.
“It kills me to take (Dubinsky) out because of how he competes,” Tortorella said Tuesday morning. “It’s tough to scratch Jack Johnson, too. It’s tough to scratch Cory Schneider. This is a really big game for USA Hockey, and to tell a couple guys, three guys, they’re not playing, that was hard.”
The United States must defeat Canada to remain alive in the tournament.
Tortorella said the coaching staff agonized over the lineup decisions and combinations. Ultimately the group decided it wanted Palmieri, a 30-goal scorer, and Byfuglien, a big, physical force with a heavy shot, on the ice and on the power play.
“We hope (Byfuglien) scores a power-play goal,” Tortorella said. “He obviously was disappointed he didn’t play the first game. I think he’s really going to try to make a difference tonight. He needs to stay disciplined but also not test the waters and make a difference here.”
Dubinsky’s absence is a curious one given his experience shadowing Canadian captain Sidney Crosby throughout their careers. That job could now fall to David Backes or Ryan Kesler, who wants this to be as edgy a game as possible.
“Hopefully (the referees) let us play tonight,” Kesler said.
The U.S. needs to balance playing physical and finishing chances to score. Palmieri, an injury replacement for another Tortorella favorite, Ryan Callahan, is better at putting the puck in the net than putting an opponent into the glass.
Palmieri doesn’t mind being asked to do both.
“I think our team needs a little spark and hopefully I can go in there tonight and provide that, whether that be a goal and maybe a big hit, just a big play to get our team going tonight and get ourselves into it and just go from there,” Palmieri said.
Asked Sunday would it would mean to be in the lineup against Canada, Byfuglien said, “It’s everything.”
Getting Palmieri and Byfuglien in seemed like a no-brainer after the U.S. lacked quality scoring chances against Europe on Saturday. Choosing to sit two Blue Jackets players who have long histories with USA Hockey stood out, but Tortorella said that wasn’t part of the consideration.
“No, I can’t bring that into the process here,” Tortorella said. “That’s unfair. We have our 23 guys no matter who’s coaching them. It’s just for this team, this game, and we made the decision to go this way.”
Carey Price starts in goal for Canada, with Corey Crawford backing up and Braden Holtby scratched. Canada is expected to stick with the same lineup it used in a 6-0 rout of the Czech Republic on Saturday, which means forward Claude Giroux and defenseman Jake Muzzin out.