The U.S. downed the Czech Republic 5-2 in a quarterfinal matchup to earn a date against Canada in the semifinals.
Canada meanwhile squeaked out a 2-1 win over Latvia in a game that appeared more tense than it should have been. Either way, it’s an All-American semifinal and everything else that came before it is irrelevant.
Five thoughts on Team USA’s game after the jump.
1. The fast, physical line of Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan centered by David Backes was a huge factor. I wrote about their play at length and why that style still can work on the big ice for CBSSports.com. So be sure to check that out here.
Just to expand on it slightly, though, the rough-and-tumble style employed by that trio of NHL captains is often discarded as unnecessary on big ice, but their play definitely proved otherwise. That group was able to shrink the ice by getting in their opponents’ faces and playing the body whenever possible. As long as you don’t get carried away going for the big hit, it’s an effective style in winning puck battles and forcing turnovers. It helped lead to goals for Team USA against the Czechs.
That fast, physical play will also be important against Canada. Since the U.S. doesn’t employ the straight trap Canada’s last two opponents have used to slow down the forwards, Team USA has to be physical and has to find other ways to take away opposing forwards’ time and space.
If the Backes line is as successful against Crosby’s line, or whatever line they find as a match-up, as they were against the Czechs (and there’s no guarantee), the U.S. has a good chance to pull out a win over Canada in the semis. Any way they can frustrate the opposing team’s forward crop is going to help.
2. The defense was once again strong. Despite a few scrambly shifts here and there, Team USA was very sound defensively. They were blocking shots like they have done throughout the tournament and limiting quality chances.
There were a few moments where the Czech Republic was able to generate some good chances on the rush, including both goals, but generally, the U.S. was keeping things contained.
The D also moves the puck extremely well out of the zone. The forwards were coming into the D zone for support and they were able to get some good breakouts going without letting the Czechs really get a break.
The U.S. also got some good play in front of the net with defensemen and forwards protecting the slot and not letting too many second-chance shots off of rebounds or blocks. That helped a ton.
Ryan Suter had a puck go off his skate and into the net off of Ryan McDonagh’s clearing attempt, but aside from that minor mishap, he was excellent. Suter had three assists over 22-plus minutes on the ice and was a factor in all zones. He and Ryan McDonagh are a dream pairing for Dan Bylsma because they can play big minutes, shut down top lines and provide offense. They were once again fantastic against the Czech Republic and will have to be even better against the Canadians.
3. Jonathan Quick looked a little shaky early in the game, but settled down nicely as things progressed. He made some really good saves when things were still close, but he probably wants the second Hemsky goal back. He just never seemed to get a handle on where that was going and looked like he gave up too much net.
That said, I think Quick is the easy choice for the semifinal. He has been solid in his starts so far and carries a .935 save percentage into the next round. He is going to get challenged quite a bit against Canada as they’ll do a better job of getting shots through and creating traffic than Team USA’s previous four opponents.
He’ll need to be sharp from start to finish Friday.
4. Zach Parise got off the schneid thanks to a softie given up by Ondrej Pavelec. For as much hand wringing as there has been regarding Parise’s production at the Olympics, I thought he’s been effective at both ends. Getting that goal has to help confidence and once he gets into more of a rhythm with Kane and Kesler, that line should be really good.
The U.S. needs a balanced scoring attack and they had it against the Czech Republic. They’ll lean on it more when Canada comes knocking.
5. Not to throw a wet blanket on Team USA’ quarterfinal win, but that score could have been a lot closer had Ondrej Pavelec not played so poorly. Both van Riemsdyk’s and Parise’s goals were a little soft and the argument could be made Backes’ goal was thanks to a misplay from Pavelec.
That said, the U.S. was finding ways to the net and all of their goals came within a few feet from the net-front. That’s a good sign. They have to be the better team down the middle of the ice from this point forward and have to score some dirty goals.
Team USA has lived off their forwards going hard to the net and making plays in tight quarters, but all of that becomes more difficult against a Canadian defense that is full of veteran players who have the experience and physical strength to make the net-front a tough place to play.
Team USA may find its size throughout its lineup will come in handy in the semifinal game because they have to get to the net. They have to give Carey Price headaches and they have to score (perhaps frequently) to give themselves a chance to play for gold.
It is going to be an excellent hockey game coming up on Friday and it should be a lot of fun (if Twitter doesn’t meltdown with USA-Canada smack talk before the puck is dropped). Tons of coverage left to come as we’ll have a full preview of the women’s gold-medal game and a long look at the USA-Canada semifinal set for Friday.