US Olympic Hockey Team 2014: Breaking Down Keys to Victory Against Canada

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US Olympic Hockey Team 2014: Breaking Down Keys to Victory Against Canada
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One of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports will resume Friday, as the United States and Canada will clash in Sochi with a shot at the gold on the line.

Four years ago, Sidney Crosby delivered the Olympic golden goal in overtime against the U.S., on home soil in Vancouver no less; needless to say, the Americans will be hunting for redemption in Russia.

Heading into this semifinal showdown, by all accounts the U.S. has been the most impressive squad of the tournament to date, as Phil Kessel, Jonathan Quick, Joe Pavelski and, yes, T.J. Oshie have helped the 2010 silver medalists to a very impressive start.

But Canada presents a different challenge, because on paper, Mike Babcock's lineup is by far the deepest, most skilled and accomplished around, and despite their surprisingly close scores against inferior opponents, they'll be the toughest test the Americans face.

It was inevitable that these two teams would meet at some point, though many thought it would be for a medal, but either way, this will be the most important game of the 2014 Olympics.

In order for the U.S. to win, here's a look at what needs to happen.

 

Keep Canada's stars at bay

So far, the Canadians have relied heavily upon contributions from Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and the rest of the defense corps, as the team's top forwards have largely been absent on the scoreboard. 

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Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL in points by a massive 11-point margin, has yet to find the back of the net, and the same goes for former Rocket Richard winners Rick Nash and Corey Perry.

Yeah, Canada managed to generate a ton of scoring chances against Latvia, but there's something to be said about many of the team's top snipers gripping their sticks too hard and over-thinking situations around the net.

Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf and Jamie Benn have been bright spots for Babcock's club, but the absence of John Tavares, who was a standout despite being a fourth-liner, will definitely hurt.

If the U.S.' defensive unit, led by the top tandem of Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh, can hold Canada's struggling scorers from making an impact, Jonathan Quick will be able to do the rest.

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Furthermore, David Poile constructed this team with the intention of manufacturing the most complete team, rather than simply taking the most talented Americans available, and guys like Ryan Kesler, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown are more than capable of making life miserable for Canada's big guns.

Fortunately for Dan Bylsma and the U.S., as NHL.com's Dan Rosen writes, they'll have a slight strategic advantage over their neighbors from above.

Bylsma has the last-change advantage as the home team and he absolutely should use it to get Suter and his defense partner, Ryan McDonagh, on the ice as much as he can.

If the U.S. keep playing tight defensive hockey and do a decent job of staying out of the box, this is a very winnable game.

 

Score the first goal, or at least lead by the end of the first period

The last time these two teams met on the world's biggest stage, Canada jumped out to a commanding 2-0 lead off of goals from Jonathan Toews and Perry, and controlled the pace of the game for much of regulation.

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And though the U.S. rallied back on goals from Kesler and Zach Parise, the game was Canada's to lose from the moment Toews opened the scoring before the end of the first period.

Prior to the clash in Vancouver, the last time these two teams faced each other at the Olympics was in 2002 in the gold-medal tilt, and while the U.S. took an early lead off a Tony Amonte strike, Canada got goals from Paul Kariya and Jarome Iginla to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

Going back even further, Canada exacted revenge on the U.S. after the Americans won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey by authoring a masterful 4-1 victory in Nagano, and yes, Canada jumped out to a big lead in that one as well.

So, to recap, scoring first certainly helps, but more than anything, against a deep lineup like Canada's, falling behind for any lengthy stretch of time won't serve the U.S. well.

In addition, while Carey Price is among the game's best in between the pipes, he's been known to give up goals in bunches in Montreal, so the Americans should be trying to get one on him early in order to open the floodgates.

 

Continued production from the big guns, and more from Patrick Kane

The U.S. have gotten solid contributions from across the board up front, but obviously, one of the stories of this tournament has been the dominant performances of Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk, who are all among the tournament's leading scorers.

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That line has been a driving force behind the U.S.' ability to blow every team aside from Russia out, and against a team loaded with elite defensemen, they U.S. will have to continue to generate quality chances to win.

Beyond the top trio, there's a lot of room for improvement for a couple of the U.S.' other top scoring threats, such as Patrick Kane and Parise.

Heading into the Olympics, Kane was without a doubt the best American player in the league, as the 2013 Conn Smythe winner was among the NHL's leaders in both goals and points.

Furthermore, this season has seen Kane blossom into much more of a scorer than he was previously, but with no goals through four games, Bylsma has to be hoping he'll break out against Canada.

It's not due to a lack of chances, as Kane's had a number of golden opportunities to tally his first of the tournament, including a couple of enviable looks against Russia.

And in Parise, the U.S. has a five-time 30-goal man, but with just a single goal and no helpers in four games, the captain has to do more.

They both made big contributions against Canada in 2010, and given the balanced attack this team boasts, if they do the same in Sochi, the Americans will advance.

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