Olympic Hockey: Five Reasons Why Canada Will Beat the United States
I like starting each of my articles with a small observation I’ve picked up while watching the Olympics. Today’s observation will focus on women’s hockey.
I would rather watch the pee-wee hockey “game” in between periods at Madison Square Garden than watch a women’s Olympic hockey game. At least the little “pee-wees” are kind of adorable when they are falling all over the place and not scoring.
I am not being sexist, but it was torture watching a little bit of the Chinese women’s team take on Russia. Slow skating, no hitting, and not one slap shot from either team—it was like watching the New York Islanders (burn).
Again, maybe it’s just me. But if you happen to catch a women’s hockey game, try watching it for five minutes without getting annoyed—bet you can’t do it.
But let’s get back to the real hockey.
After watching both the Canadian and U.S. men’s hockey team play today, I think it’s safe to say that Team U.S.A. is in way over its head. Don’t believe me?
Well here are five reasons why the United States doesn’t stand a chance on Sunday.
Miller Hasn’t Been Tested
While Canada barely escaped with a win over Switzerland, it wasn’t as if they struggled. The Canadians outshot the Swiss 47-23. Many of you are already thinking, “Well, “The U.S. outshot Norway 39-11."
Good point—but that is actually a reason why the United States is going to be in a lot of trouble when they play Canada.
U.S. starting goaltender Ryan Miller has faced just 26 shots in the first two games of the Olympic tournament. Although Norway had several good scoring chances, which Miller denied, there haven’t been nearly as many as Miller can expect to face against Canada on Sunday.
Canada has a multitude of different shooters, and all of them will be throwing the puck at Miller as often as possible.
The U.S. shot-blocking has been good, but Canada has combined for 89 shots in the first two games. Team U.S.A. can only block so many shots before a few get through.
Miller is going to have to be at his very best if the United States stands a chance—but he just hasn’t been tested enough to make me think he’s ready for Canada.
And this leads me to my next point.
Where Switzerland and Norway Faltered, Canada Will Not
The U.S. has faced far too many odd-man rushes in the first two games to be confident going into the game against Canada.
Miller stopped a number of good scoring chances against Norway to make sure the United States held the lead early in the game.
The Swiss team also missed several wide open shots on Tuesday that players like Jarome Iginla and Dany Heatley will make no mistakes in burying.
The odd-man rushes are what the United States truly needs to be worried about—Norway’s only goal is a perfect example of this.
While it was more of a coaching mistake—having four forwards on the ice on the power play—Norway caught the U.S. sleeping. Marius Holtet created a two-on-one advantage and wristed the puck passed a surprised Miller.
Not only was the goal scored on another odd-man rush, but it was short-handed. And not to take anything away from Switzerland or Norway, but if they can create these kinds of chances, then Canada will easily be able to do the same.
These chances seem to be happening early and often. If Miller cannot stop this well-balanced Canadian offense, then the U.S. will not be as lucky as it has been in its first two games.
Defensemen: Get Your Shots Through
I have watched a number of times in the first two games where the U.S. defensemen had a chance to get a shot through, but waited for a “better” shot, only to have it blocked a few moments later.
Take the shot when you have it.
Both Erik Johnson (see photo) and Jack Johnson had chances to shoot the puck in the first period against Norway—when it was still a close game—but instead they opted to hold it a little longer in the hopes that something would open up. Seconds later, both shots ended up being blocked and resulted in an easy clear or an offensive rush for Norway.
While the U.S. defense isn’t really known for its goal-scoring—although Brian Rafalski did have two nice goals against the Norwegians—the United States has a number of forwards who score a lot of “garbage goals.” Ryan Malone’s goal in the opening games against Switzerland is a perfect example of a “garbage goal.”
If the defense can at least get their shots through, then the garbage goal scorers can have their chances.
If the U.S. has any shot at beating Canada, the defensemen need to be shooting as soon as they are given the opportunity.
Swiss Defense + Norwegian Defense < Canadian Defense
Yes, that’s a mathematic formula I used for this slide’s title.
The first three goals that the United States scored against Norway will not happen against Canada.
Phil Kessel got past one defenseman on a questionable pinch, and then the other defenseman watched as Kessel scored on a gorgeous wrist shot to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
But the Canadian defense will not make that kind of pinch that will lead to that kind of a poke check that would result in Kessel being one-on-one with any Canadian defender.
And let’s say he does get one-on-one with a defender on Saturday, the skill on the Canadian blue line will keep Kessel from getting any kind of shooting angle.
The second and third goals scored by the U.S. were on bad rebounds that Marty Brodeur–I’m making an assumption that the best goaltender of all-time will get the start–almost never gives up.
And again, let’s say Marty does let up a couple of bad rebounds, the Canadian defense will clear those loose pucks much faster than the United States’ previous two opponents.
It is good to see the United States capitalizing on their opponents’ mistakes, but these are mistakes that Canada will not make.
The Drive To Win
The bottom line is that Canada will be looking to make an example of the United States.
The 3-2 win over Switzerland was a wake-up call for Canada, and even though they did play well, they still made a few mistakes.
You better believe it will not take another game for the Canadians to learn from their mistakes and head coach Mike Babcock will make sure they don’t happen again.
Canada will have the chance to grab a bye into the medal round, and they have the pressure from an entire country pushing them forward.
This is too big of a stage for nine NHL captains to let their team and their country down for a second straight Olympics.
The United States is too young to defeat a team with this much talent–yes, I’ve heard of the 1980 miracle team–and the U.S. has made too many mistakes against lesser teams to sneak away with another victory.
Although they have an incredible goaltender in Miller, he hasn’t had to do too much yet and on Sunday he will be expected to do it all–a big problem in my mind.
At the end of the day, the United States just does not match up with Canada’s skill and experience.