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Team USA vs. Slovenia: Preview and Prediction for 2014 Olympic Hockey Game

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterFebruary 15, 2014

Team USA vs. Slovenia: Preview and Prediction for 2014 Olympic Hockey Game

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    It's not quite the 1980 Olympics, but Team USA needs to refocus right away after a thrilling victory against Russia on Saturday at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    As you may have heard once, twice or 80,000 times in your life, the U.S. team needed to win one more game after beating the Soviets in 1980 in order to win gold. There's no medal on the line for this year's American squad just yet, but it'll need to beat Slovenia in order to win Group A.

    Slovenia was thought by many to be the weakest team in Group A, but their 3-1 win over Slovakia on Saturday now gives it a chance to win the group.

    This preview will give you TV information, potential line combinations and a prediction for the final game of group play before the elimination round starts.

TV and Live Stream Info

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The puck drops on this contest on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET and can be seen on the NBC Sports Network in the United States and TSN in Canada. The game will be streamed live in both the United States and Canada.

    For live Internet streams, go to NBCOlympics.com in the U.S. and Olympics.CBC.ca in Canada.

Top Storylines

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Can Team USA clinch Group A?

    The victory against Russia will mean nothing if the Americans take a tumble against Slovenia. Team USA needs to beat Slovenia, which is 1-1 in the group, in order to clinch a bye into the quarterfinals. If there was ever a time to avoid a letdown, this would be it.

    Will Team USA build on the win vs. Russia?

    Barring something cataclysmic, Team USA should beat Slovenia, which features one NHL player (Anze Kopitar) on its roster. The issue for the Americans is whether they can continue to improve as the tournament moves forward. Despite the victory against Russia, there were some rough spots for the Americans.

    Can Team USA clean up its mistakes?

    Slovenia shouldn't be much of a test, so it's up to the Team USA players to take it upon themselves to correct flaws from the game against Russia. They were an undisciplined lot, taking five penalties with many of them being lazy, avoidable infractions. 

Team USA Projected Lineup

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Forwards

    • Phil Kessel—Joe Pavelski—James van Riemsdyk

    • Dustin Brown—Ryan Kesler—Patrick Kane

    • Zach Parise—David Backes—Ryan Callahan

    • Max Pacioretty—Paul Stastny—T.J. Oshie

    Extras: Blake Wheeler, Derek Stepan

    Defense

    • Ryan McDonagh—Ryan Suter

    • Cam Fowler—Kevin Shattenkirk

    • Brooks Orpik—Paul Martin

    Extras: John Carlson, Justin Faulk

    Goaltenders

    • Jonathan Quick

    • Ryan Miller

    • Jimmy Howard

Team Slovenia Projected Lineup

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Forwards

    • David Rodman—Anze Kopitar—Jan Mursak

    • Marcel Rodman—Tomaz Razinger—Jan Urbas

    • Ziga Jeglic—Rok Ticar—Robert Sabolic

    • Ales Music—Ziga Pance—Bostjan Golicic

    Extras: Miha Verlic, Anze Kuralt

    Defense

    • Ales Kranjc—Sabahudin Kovacevic

    • Blaz Gregorc—Mitja Robar

    • Ziga Pavlin—Andrej Tavzelj

    • Klemen Pretnar—Matic Podlipnik

    Goaltenders

    • Robert Kristan

    • Luka Gracnar

    • Andrej Hocevar

Key Skaters

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Ryan Kesler, USA

    He blocked a rocket of a one-timer by Ilya Kovalchuk against Russia and had to leave the game. He returned with his glove taped and was strong in the faceoff circle, but it will be interesting to see how he looks 24 hours after the injury.

    Anze Kopitar, Slovenia

    He's a dynamic player and scored a beauty of a goal in his team's 3-1 win against Slovakia on Saturday. He can take over a game and will be a marked man by the Team USA defense.

    Ryan Suter, USA

    He played nearly 30 minutes against Russia and this will be his second consecutive game in as many days. Coach Dan Bylsma would like to get to a big lead so he can rest his horse for the elimination round.

Goaltender Breakdown

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Jonathan Quick, USA

    He allowed two goals against Russia—both to Pavel Datsyuk—and made his share of saves during the shootout portion of the game. He should be up to the task against Slovenia.

    Robert Kristan, Slovenia

    He kept his team close with Russia for a while in his team's loss in the group opener, but delivered 27 saves on 28 shots in a win against Slovakia. The 30-year-old will have to repeat that showing to give Slovenia a chance.

Team USA Will Win If It Doesn't Have a Letdown

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    If Team USA played Slovenia 10 times, it should win at least nine times and probably 10. But this game sets up well for Slovenia to pull the shocker. 

    The Americans just won a roller coaster, emotional game one day prior and will have to rev their engines back up again against a team that would be easy to take lightly. If they don't open the door early or let Slovenia hang around, they should be fine.

Slovenia Will Win If It Can Jump on Team USA Early

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Slovenia stayed with Slovakia for 40 minutes and pounced in the third period to win that matchup. It'll need to do the same against a superior opponent.

    It's an improbable—but not impossible—task. Team USA should have a hard time matching its level of play against Russia when the puck drops, and that's when Slovenia needs to pounce. If it can get an early lead, it can hang on for dear life and steal this one.

    After its victory Saturday over Slovakia, Tomas Jurko said the team's motivations in the tournament include the nation's hockey fortunes as whole.

    “Hopefully it’s going to help some young kids," Jurko said, according to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times.  "I’m pretty sure right now that the country was watching and was excited for this Olympic Games just for that reason,  because we did get qualified for the first time. I think it’s going to explode pretty soon.”

Prediction

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    It probably won't be Team USA's prettiest performance of the Olympics, but it should be good enough to get past Slovenia. Expect there to be a few moments of panic, but Team USA has too many weapons for Slovenia to make a true upset bid.

    Predicted score: Team USA 5, Slovenia 1

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