It was far from perfect. But Team USA did what they had to, holding off a feisty Switzerland team for a hard fought 3-1 win on Day One of Olympic Hockey in Vancouver. Bobby Ryan, David Backes and Ryan Malone scored the goals for the Preliminary Round win, allowing the Americans to earn three points. Somewhat predictably, Ryan Miller didn't have a ton of work but turned aside 14 of 15 Swiss shots earning the victory.
After a sluggish start probably due to all the travel, Ron Wilson's group got on the board first when Cherry Hill, Jersey native Ryan whistled one home from the slot past Anaheim teammate Jonas Hiller with 1:01 left in the first. On with Ranger duo Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury, the 22 year-old kept a play alive with a hit along the boards, eventually getting to a loose puck and rifling home his first Olympic goal. He sure was pumped, raising his arms emphatically as teammates congratulated him.
Even though they didn't get a ton of shots, the Swiss had opportunities to tie it in the second with former NHLer Hnat Domenichelli and Julien Sprunger combining for a stuff try which Miller snuffed out. Another close call from Thierry Paterlini saw Miller kick out the puck, leading to a brilliant goal by Backes who went coast to coast for his first of the tournament. On the play, the St. Louis Blue blew past Yannick Weber in the neutral zone going around the Hab product before deking Hiller and finishing off with a brilliant forehand at 5:52. As both Doc Emrick and Ed Olczyk noted on USA Network, Miller should've been credited with an assist.
Less than three minutes later, Malone increased to 3-zip when he tallied on the power play. Following a quiet shift from the top line of Patrick Kane, Paul Stastny and Zach Parise, the Tampa power forward who entered without a goal in his last 11 had no trouble getting to a Ryan Suter rebound with Joe Pavelski in front, steering the puck home for his first. A nice read by Suter, who wisely took the shot with plenty of traffic distracting Hiller enough to let out a rebound that Malone finished.
Despite being up three, Team USA wasn't sharp turning over the puck numerous times leading to a few odd-man rushes the Swiss failed to capitalize on, including a gaping net for Sprunger set up perfectly on a three-on-one, that he fired over the top. A couple were the result of bad pinches while a few others were just careless mishandles like a Suter turnover that Miller had to be ready for. That kind of carelessness can't continue when they face powers Canada and Russia after Norway Thursday.
Credit Switzerland for hanging in there, changing their physical trapping style to more attacking late in the second and third with good results. In fact, they controlled a large majority of the final stanza staying on USA and generating chances. As clashing analysts Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury alluded to, some were missed wide while others Miller got or a US defender blocked. Pretty evident on a couple of penalty kills where Ryan Kesler sacrificed his body on a point shot. The Americans didn't get much in terms of chances with Kesler ringing the post and a Callahan/Drury shorthanded rush forcing Hiller to make a save, allowing his teammates to come the other way and finally score their first of the Olympics when a Roman Wick backhand centering feed went in off a pokechecking Miller. The PPG cut it to 3-1 with under nine minutes to go.
Swiss continued to be aggressive coming dangerously close a couple of more times but ultimately couldn't draw closer. Finally, Team USA strung together a couple of good shifts with their best player Backes doing solid work along with Pavelski and Dustin Brown, who otherwise had an ineffective day. With a couple of minutes left, veteran Switzerland coach Ralph Krueger opted not to pull Hiller due to Pierre McGuire referencing goal differential as a key tiebreaker. Still, we felt he should've as his team deserved a better opportunity to make it closer. What if they'd scored to make it 3-2? Isn't two goals and a potential one-goal defeat better in the long run? Oh well.
Time finally ticked down as the Americans emerged victorious in their first Olympic game of the tourney, with 1980 Miracle On Ice hero and former captain Mike Eruzione lending support from the stands.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Hnat Dominichelli, SUI (assist, SOG in 10:23)
2nd Star-Bobby Ryan, USA (scored first goal of Olympics)
1st Star-David Backes, USA (1st of tournament)