The U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team finished the preliminary round Sunday with a 5-1 win over Slovenia and a final record of 2-1-0-0 (W-OTW-OTL-L) and a goal differential of plus-11. That makes the U.S. the No. 2 overall seed heading into the playoff round.
Instead of going through and recapping the Slovenia game like the others, I figure it’s probably a better use of time to take stock of the team through its first three games overall. There was plenty that went right, but there are definitely many areas in which Team USA can improve.
Coming up after the jump, a quick look at all three games, Team USA’s statistical leaders, some individual assessments and further examination of what looked good and what didn’t for Team USA in the first portion of the tournament.
Preliminary Round Recap
Game 1: USA 7 – Slovakia 1
The U.S. got through a feel-it-out first period up 1-0 before losing the lead very early in the second period. The U.S. followed up Slovakia’s goal by exploding for six goals in the second period en route to a 7-1 final. A good speed game and scoring from throughout the lineup led to Team USA’s most decisive victory. It was a surprise to see such a fast start from the Americans considering the lack of familiarity and day-to-day line tinkering in practice, but it worked out pretty well.
Phil Kessel ended the game with three points, while Paul Stastny had two goals in the win. Jonathan Quick was largerly untested, but looked sound enough in a 22-save effort.
Game 2: USA 3 – Russia 2 (SO)
In a surprisingly tightly-checked game, the U.S. and Russia were awfully close the whole way and even traded leads twice. The U.S. popped in two power-play goals, with Cam Fowler scoring a crucial game-tying marker in the second and Joe Pavelski converting on a beautiful cross-ice feed from Patrick Kane to temporarily give the U.S. the lead. Pavel Datsyuk scored a pair for Russia.
The game took a controversial turn when an apparent go-ahead goal by Fedor Tyutin was waved off after video review revealed the net was off its moorings. The IIHF rules were followed correctly and it actually ended up giving the U.S. momentum.
After a scoreless overtime and a shootout tied after three rounds, it was the T.J. Oshie Show. The Blues forward scored on three of his five attempts as the extra shooter, making him a household name, a meme and more than doubling his Twitter followers overnight.
Jonathan Quick was also terrific in the game, making 29 saves in regulation and making the key stop on Ilya Kovalchuk in the eighth round of the shootout helped seal the U.S. victory.
Game 3: USA 5 – Slovenia 1
A natural hat trick by Phil Kessel overshadowed a rather sloppy effort from the U.S. in a decisive 5-1 win over Slovenia. The U.S. didn’t have much life in the middle portion of the game, but Kessel was fantastic early, scoring a dazzling opening goal that showed his world-class skill.
Ryan Miller got his first start and was 17 seconds away from a shutout, but he did earn his sixth Olympic win, tying Jim Craig for second on the all-time list. He made 17 saves in the win.
Ryan McDonagh and David Backes also scored for Team USA.
Here’s a look at Team USA’s statistical leaders after the prelim round:
1. Phil Kessel — 3 GP, 4-3–7 (leads tournament in points)
2. T.J. Oshie — 3 GP, 1-3–4 (IIHF counts decisive shootout goals for total)
3. Joe Pavelski — 3 GP, 1-3–4
4. James van Riemsdyk — 3 GP, 0-4–4 (tied for tournament assists lead)
5. Patrick Kane — 3 GP, 0-3–3
1. Ryan Suter — 3 GP, 23:27 (81 shifts)
2. Ryan McDonagh — 3 GP, 20:38 (76)
3. Ryan Kesler — 3 GP, 18:27 (67)
T-1. Dustin Brown — 3 GP, 4 PIM
T-1. David Backes — 3 GP, 4 PIM
Six with 2 PIM
1. Jonathan Quick (1-1-0-0) — 1.44 GAA, .944 SV%, 0 SO
2. Ryan Miller (1-0-0-0) — 1.00 GAA, .944 SV%, 0 SO
Team USA’s complete player statistics here.
Power Play: 2-for-8, 25% (Tournament Rank: T-3rd)
Penalty Kill: 8-for-9, 88% (T-3rd)
Goaltending: .944 SV% (3rd)
Scoring Efficiency: 15-95, 15.95% (1st)
PIM: 20 (T-7th)
The interesting thing about Team USA at the Olympics so far is that their first game was so clearly their best. Most coaches I’ve come across in international hockey talk about the importance of getting better with each day of the tournament and I don’t know that the U.S. can say that. I don’t know that a lot of teams can say that actually, save for maybe the Swiss.
The U.S. was fair against Russia. They generated very, very little five-on-five and struggled getting through the modified trap Russia was running. There was just no space to make clean zone entries and it really knocked the U.S. off their game. The fact that both goals came on the power play and the team’s other best scoring chances came via Patrick Kane in the four-on-four overtime period is a bit of a concern.
Slovenia was able to slow things down at times in a similar fashion. Again, that’s Slovenia. The U.S. did score five goals Sunday, but there wasn’t a lot of sustained zone time or creating off the rush unless the Pavelski-Kessel-JVR line was out there. That’s again a bit of a concern.
Few teams have the wheels to keep pace with the U.S., so every team they play from here on out will be attempting to slow down that speed. That means Team USA has to start getting creative about how it enters the zone, when to employ a dump-and-chase strategy and how to get some more sustained zone time.
The one thing that you can absolutely say about Team USA save for a couple of minor breakdowns is that they’ve defended extremely well. They’re not a trap team like a lot of the European clubs are on the big ice. Finland expertly trapped Canada Sunday and showed how effective team defense is on the big ice.
The U.S. is getting it done with a highly mobile defense, aggressiveness from the forwards in the D zone and blocking a ton of shots.
Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh have played D at an elite level in this tournament, all while eating tough minutes. Paul Martin gets high marks from me as well.
The puck-moving pair of Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler have been good at both ends of the ice, actually. Their ability to control the puck and get it up ice quickly has made both extremely effective.
Then you also have to credit Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller with good performances so far. Quick was great in the first two games when needed and Miller made a few key stops in a game that felt closer than the final scoreline suggested.
Areas of Success
- As noted, the defense has been great. Canada, Finland and the Czech Republic (by one) have allowed fewer shots than the 72 the U.S. gave up in the preliminary round. So they’re holding up their end of the deal. The shot blocking is really big in this regard.
- The line of Joe Pavelski centering James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel has been as good as advertised. The trio has combined for 15 points so far in this tournament. They look comfortable together and they’re a threat almost every time out. Their speed and skill is so tough for teams to contain. This is the trio Dan Bylsma can throw out in must-score situations pretty regularly.
- Goaltending. It’s been just fine and you’d expect Quick is the guy from here on out, though Miller did nicely today.
- I’ve actually really liked a lot of the shifts that have been taken by Team USA’s fourth line with Paul Stastny, T.J. Oshie and one of either Blake Wheeler or Max Pacioretty. In every game, they’ve had a few shifts that actually gave the U.S. some sustained zone time. They were awesome in the Slovakia and Slovenia games and then there was some flashes against Russia that were really positive. Getting good work out of your depth can be so huge. Dan Bylsma doesn’t have to shorten his bench a ton this way.
- Faceoffs have been outstanding for the U.S. Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski are both well above 60 percent on their success rates. Kesler has become the key faceoff man for team USA and that has helped set the U.S. up well, particularly on offensive zone draws. It’s a small part of the game, but being good in it helps.
- Team USA’s penalty kill has been terrific. They’ve allowed just one goal on the man advantage. Suter, McDonagh, Orpik, Martin, Kesler, Pavelski, Backes, Parise and Callahan have been the team’s primary penalty killers and they’ve done a really sound job overall. That was a huge factor in the game against Russia.
What needs work
- As noted already, five-on-five play has not been the best against Russia, which is the best game to use of the three for what to expect going forward. The U.S. really didn’t have much juice against Slovenia, perhaps due to the situation and coming off an emotional win. However, with two days off to prepare for one of Slovakia or the Czech Republic, the U.S. has to focus on generating more at five-on-five. When playing other top-end teams, you can’t lean solely on your power play for offense.
- Dustin Brown has taken two costly penalties in the tournament, one of which led to Pavel Datsyuk’s game-tying goal Saturday. Not to single out Brown, but special teams is such a huge key. As good as Team USA’s power play has been, the margin for error in single-elimination is so slim. Being smart while staying aggressive is going to be massively important going forward.
- The power play had two goals against Russia, which is good, but 2-for-8 is only an OK mark for a team with this much scoring talent. Those two power-play goals were all the U.S. got in regulation against Russia and we know how big those turned out to be. Taking advantage on special teams is a great way to frustrate teams and put them away. It’s all about taking what you’re given in international hockey.
- This hasn’t been a terribly memorable tournament for Zach Parise, which is moderately surprising. He’s not generating a lot offensively, which may have a lot to do with playing on a more defensive-minded line. Still, you expect Parise to be a sparkplug and he’s kind of come in and out of games. He was moved to a line with Kesler and Kane Sunday for a while, but that line looked no more threatening with Parise instead of Brown. It will be interesting to see how the captain responds when the games take on a more desperate tone.
The Lineup Going Forward
Right off the bat, the U.S. has some tough lineup decisions to make. Blake Wheeler took Max Pacioretty’s place on the fourth line against Slovenia, which allowed Derek Stepan to draw into the lineup.
Stepan is a good insurance policy because he is a center who can play wing if needed. With Kesler getting banged up on a blocked shot against Russia, it might not be a bad idea to have Stepan inserted.
That makes the decision on Wheeler or Pacioretty more difficult. The latter looked great against Slovakia, but wasn’t much of a factor against Russia. Wheeler barely played against Russia, but was terrific against Slovenia (which will be taken with a grain of salt for sure).
If they are confident enough about their center health, however, having Wheeler and Pacioretty in the lineup is probably the ideal situation.
The U.S. also hasn’t gotten Justin Faulk into the lineup yet. The young Hurricanes defenseman has seen a lot of top competition in the NHL, but with the U.S. blue line playing as well as they have, it’s hard to see where he could slot in during an elimination game, barring injury.
Then the goaltending decision looms, but that’s pretty much decided, right? Quick seems to be the go-to guy and he’s earned it with two good starts in this tournament.
The U.S. will meet the Czech Republic or Slovakia on Wednesday. The time of that game is still to be determined. Since Russia is playing in the qualification round, the game times for the quarterfinal probably won’t be known until the qualifiers are over.
Here’s the bracket for the rest of the tournament via Wikipedia. A U.S. and Canada win in the quarterfinal means the North American rivals would meet in the semifinals, so that’d be fun.
Check back for more on Team USA soon.