As fate would have it, the United States and Canada are set to meet in the men's hockey semifinals at the 2014 Winter Games.
The United States fulfilled its end of the bargain via a 5-2 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, while Canada moved past Latvia by a 2-1 margin. CBS Sports has the details of the big matchup, which fans will be able to stream live on NBC Live Extra:
The rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver is sure to be an epic affair. In a game of adjustments, a few noteworthy elements come to mind that fans must pay attention to before the contest.
Can Canada Overcome the U.S. Defense?
It seems like such a simple question.
While Canada has scored 10 goals so far in the bracket, the team has had a rather easy schedule outside of the preliminary-round bout with Finland, which it was only able to win 2-1.
As James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail points out, Canada is by far the worst shooting team left in the Games:
As if to perfectly contrast Canada's style, the Americans have only surrendered six goals on their path to the final. The defense does an outstanding job of pushing attackers to the outside of the offensive zone, and goalkeepers such as Jonathan Quick have played stout defense in front of the net.
In fact, this strategy of pushing the Canadian attackers to the outside is exactly what Latvia, Norway and Finland employed to sound success. America will surely continue to do the same. Adam Hearty of the Global News puts it best:
Canada needs to speed up and adjust to the defensive scheme the U.S.A. puts into use. If they don’t, then a couple goals from the speedy American forwards could be all it takes to crush Canada’s hopes of repeating as Olympic champions—or even making it to the gold-medal game.
Much of the reason Canada has struggled offensively has to do with the next point, which more than deserves its own spotlight.
Sidney Crosby's Disappearing Act
Where in the world is Sidney Crosby?
There is simply no excuse for Crosby not finding the back of the net so far. Yes, his team is littered with NHL talent, but said talent has not been scoring, either. A Latvia defense with only one NHL player in its lineup held Crosby in check and limited the Canadians to just two goals.
Split opinions exist on the Crosby dilemma. Jeff Veillette of The Leafs Nation believes it is unfair to place all the blame on Crosby:
Others, such as Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, want to see Crosby step up:
Whatever it takes to get Crosby going is necessary. Perhaps more time next to fellow Pittsburgh linemate Chris Kunitz will do the trick. Whatever "it" is, it needs to happen fast—the Americans are more than ready for the matchup.
This notion was best explained by David Backes after his team's big win over the Czech Republic, via Andy Potts of the International Ice Hockey Federation:
I want to win a gold medal, and we have to beat the best teams to do that. If it's Canada next we have to meet that head on. It seems like we were on a crash course to meet, and now it's going to be in the semifinal.
The U.S. has been ready for the matchup for quite some time. International hockey requires adjustments, and the U.S. has simply been better in this regard thus far. Canada appears to be a bunch of superstars just thrown together without any real chemistry.
Above all else, how Crosby responds against the U.S. again will likely decide the game.