So often a game gets hyped up to a degree where it’s impossible to live up to. Somehow, USA-Russia surpassed the hype. The game included back and forth action, some controversy and perhaps the most compelling shootout you’ll ever see.
The U.S. came away with a 3-2 victory, two points in the standings and an entire country pretty excited about hockey right now. The win should propel the U.S. and give them some added confidence heading into the rest of the tournament, but in the end, it is a small step in the tournament.
Team USA will now meet Slovenia Sunday with a chance to clinch first place in Group A and a bye to the quarterfinals. There’s a lot of good hockey left, but that game set a seriously high bar.
I already broke down some thoughts on the incredible performance by T.J. Oshie in the shootout over at CBSSports.com, so I’ll try and cover some new ground with five thoughts I had after this game.
USA Hockey’s post-game show is here with some ramblings from myself.
1. The biggest takeaway I have from this game is that Team USA can reinvent itself from one game to the next by a few simple lineup changes and some different tactics. The U.S. pushed the pace and played with speed against Slovakia. With Russia, they were content to focus more on defense and take whatever was given to them.
The results were mostly good. Russia scored once 5v5 and that was some bad defending there to open up the lanes for Pavel Datsyuk, but by and large, the U.S. was defending solidly.
That was particularly true on the penalty kill. Team USA did allow one PPG, but holding Russia to 1-for-5 is a pretty darn good day. The shot blocking, the discipline down the middle and then some timely saves from Jonathan Quick all made that PK look tremendous.
The U.S. also didn’t let much happen on the rush, which is where the Russian forwards can really hurt you. Even when the U.S. puck management wasn’t the best, the forwards got back, the D kept good gaps and they were breaking up the flow.
2. Jonathan Quick was fantastic in this game. The highlight may be the save on Kovalchuk in the shootout that set up the Oshie winner, but he was just plain good the rest of the game. I don’t think you’d put a lot of blame on him for either goal that Datsyuk scored in regulation and then he ended up making four total saves in the shootout.
He ended the game with 29 saves and then there was also the fortuitous push off the net off the moorings. Was it on purpose? Was it not? And why didn’t the ref notice it sooner? Either way, the video review of the no goal call was right. That was an unfortunate turning point for Russia and a rather fortuitous one for Team USA. The Americans had a better handle on the game from that point on.
Getting back to Quick’s goaltending, though, he made several key saves. Goaltending is so important internationally because scoring in general is hard. If your goalie gives up a softie or two and you’re playing from behind, it’s not easy to get back into it when the opponent starts trapping up.
The U.S. players didn’t give up a ton of quality chances, but enough to make Quick work on a few key stops from close range.
You have to assume it’s his net from here on out, even if Ryan Miller spells him for the Slovenia game.
Quick was not the obvious choice, but Bylsma made his decision, stuck with it and now the U.S. is 1-1-0-0 and in the driver’s seat. It will be interesting to see how the elimination games go.
3. Ryan Suter showed why he is one of the very best defensemen in the world. He played 29:56 and played 3:12 of overtime. That’s kind of like his normal work load in the NHL, but these are minutes coming against a rotation of Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, et al. It’s also coming on a wider surface, which means you have to be even more efficient with your skating.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in the D zone, but if a defenseman focuses on limiting himself to stay within the dots most of the time, it usually works out favorably. Suter was a rock out there.
The same goes for Ryan McDonagh who had a few key shot blocks and was using his skating extremely effectively. McDonagh, who I believe is Suter’s heir apparent as the next great top American defenseman, played 23:39, which was second on Team USA. He’s reaching an elite level.
Also a lot of credit goes to Team USA’s skill pairing of Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk. They were the second most utilized pairing and the U.S. was a threat offensively with them out and neither was in the least bit a liability offensively. Fowler scored the big tying goal and Shattenkirk had an assist on Joe Pavelski’s power-play tally.
Alright, so we need to talk a little more about Oshie quick. That was really something. Four goals on six attempts against a world-class goalie with five of those shots coming in game-deciding situations. That’s just nuts.
Oshie has become a bit of a celebrity today and why shouldn’t he be? I’m looking forward to seeing the ratings for the shootout specifically. It seemed like he had the nation’s attention.
Via the great @PeteBlackburn, the goal:
Here are some reactions from his goal being scored (as many bars across the country opened early for this game). Here’s my personal favorite though…
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 15, 2014
This one from an ice arena with parents and youth players crowded around is a great one, too (via Puck Daddy):
How’d you feel about it, Columbus?
And you, Boston?
And finally you, Atlanta (h/t Andrew Hirsh)
5. Now the U.S. has to come back and play a back-to-back against Slovenia. While the Slovenians are going to struggle with Team USA’s speed, they just stunned Slovakia today, which means they probably shouldn’t be taken too lightly.
The U.S. is coming off of an emotional win and getting a lot of attention for it, but with a bye likely, it is important to work out some of the kinks.
Team USA did not score a 5v5 goal against Russia and 5v5 play is going to be huge going forward as games get called a little less tightly. Finding ways through the opposing trap is important. The U.S. struggled with that against Russia.
Team USA would prefer controlled zone entries as opposed to dump and chase hockey, since the big ice is where dump and chase goes to die. It’s not a wise strategy to be letting go of the puck when you don’t have to, because getting it back can be tough sometimes. Keeping the puck moving forward with control goes a long way in generating offense.
The U.S. should be able to use their speed and create off rushes more, establish a much more aggressive forecheck and probably need to do a better job of getting some sustained zone time like they did against Slovakia.
As long as the U.S. doesn’t take the Slovenia game like a throwaway and focuses on playing the game they’re supposed to be playing in this tournament, it shouldn’t be close, but it’s important to go into the days off on the highest possible note and it doesn’t hurt to pad that favorable goal differential for seeding purposes.
In all likelihood, the U.S. ends up the third overall seed. Sweden went undefeated with all wins being of the regulation variety. Canada has a tougher test against Finland, but it would seem like they’d be able to win that one going away and take the first or second seed.
With Slovenia’s upset, the insane USA-Russia game, another Swiss win and some tense moments for Sweden against Latvia, Saturday was the best day of Olympic hockey. We’re only days away from the medal round where things get really fun.
I’ll hope to have something on USA lines vs. Slovenia later tonight and some additional thoughts on the tournament outlook from here.