Tuesday, February 16, 2010

USA/Swiss thoughts

Well, Game One of three on the first day of Olympic Men's Hockey is in the books. As we noted in our previous entry, Team USA defeated Switzerland 3-1 on goals by Bobby Ryan, David Backes and Ryan Malone. Some quick thoughts on it as host Canada battles Norway in the Crosby love fest...

-As noted a few times already, Backes was USA's best player. He was all over the ice during shifts skating, finishing checks and scoring an awesome end-to-end goal deking Jonas Hiller. He played mostly with Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan, who also had a whale of a game just missing his first goal and coming close to setting up Ryan's second.

-Speaking of Ryan, the 22 year-old Duck was tremendous splitting time on the fourth line while also getting some work with Joe Pavelski and Malone, who both were very effective. I've always been a huge fan of the Jersey kid who was selected second overall in the '05 Draft behind Sid The Kid. In Year Two, the super soph has 28 goals or a couple better than more well known 'mates Zach Parise and Patrick Kane. Not bad company. He uses his size well and possesses a lethal shot like the halitzer he blew past Hiller from the slot. Really liked the physicality he showed along the wall. Think the kid was pumped?

Once I scored, I was able to settle down and come back into my own a little bit. You definitely don’t want to come from behind early. To get the lead, I think it settled the game down quite a bit for us."
-The aforementioned Pavelski and Malone were strong in front with the Sharks' much overlooked second line pivot helping screen Hiller, allowing Malone to get to the loose change. Each were rock solid on the forecheck doing good things. Nice to see Malone get an early one as he'll be a key player if Ron Wilson's underdog squad is to medal.

-The checking line of Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler and Captain America Jamie Langenbrunner were decent, putting together a few strong shifts early. They can be a good cycle line that can match-up against top scoring lines. Kesler's one of the most underrated two-way centers in the league and Langenbrunner has always been a solid overall player who complements linemates well. Brown was the only shaky one guilty of a couple of turnovers. He did get better in the third, playing a more straight line game.

-Kane, Parise and top center Paul Stastny were fairly quiet with the Avs' playmaker trying to do too much. What we mean by that is too much skating and passing. Sometimes, simple is better. He had a great opportunity to shoot the puck on a three-on-two but didn't, possibly costing his team a fourth goal. Of the super fast trio, Zach Attack was the best generating a couple of chances with his speed and shot, forcing Hiller to make two tough stops.

-The blueline was okay but must tighten up. The Johnson & Johnson pair consisting of LA's Jack Johnson and the Blues' Erik Johnson were the best doing some stellar work in their end while jumping in when the chance presented itself. In particular, Jack's ability to rove and then recover reminded us of Brian Leetch or Canada's Scott Niedermayer while partner Erik's physical presence meshed well. Ryan Suter assisted on Malone's power play tally but also struggled in his end with one dangerous turnover that nearly resulted in a goal if not for Ryan Miller. Oddly enough, the player traded for Jack Johnson Tim Gleason, worked with Brian Rafalski, who was too quiet and must get more involved as the tournament unfolds. Paired up with former Pen 'mate and Paul Martin replacement Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik made his presence felt with a few crunchers in a hard fought third.

-Only facing 15 shots, Miller was good with the exception of admittedly being a little too aggressive on Roman Wick's centering feed which resulted in SUI's lone goal. But when called upon, the Buffalo netminder was there to bail out sloppy teammates.

-Phil Kessel didn't do much in 11-plus. He saw time both with Pavelski and Stastny. The Toronto sniper must shoot the puck. The idea of subbing him with Stastny and Parise while shifting Kane to Pavelski's line might make sense because it would give the top unit a dangerous right-handed shot opposite Parise on the left side. Just a thought.

-On the Swiss side, Hiller finished with 18 saves in defeat. He could hardly be faulted but was beat high by Ryan and wasn't aggressive enough on Backes' breakaway where a pokecheck might've worked. He was a little too far back in his crease. The Malone rebound was tough because of traffic.

-Hnat Domenichelli was the Swiss' most effective player, assisting on Wick's tally while also being in front to distract Miller. The former NHLer who played for the Whalers, Flames, Thrashers and Wild who stars for HC Lugano was visible, creating his country's best chances. He always had good speed and certainly displayed it.

-Julien Sprunger and Vito Wuthemann also had opportunities but couldn't finish with Sprunger blowing a three-on-one point blank chance while Wuthemann was denied by Miller.

-Swiss captain and Isles' defenseman Mark Streit helped set up Wick's PPG, logging the most minutes (22:33) of any skater with no USA player going over 20:00.

-Former Ranger products Philippe Furrer and Andres Ambuhl were decent with Furrer showing off his puckhandling skills that never even got a look here while Ambuhl played with edge.

-D prospects Luca Sbisa (Ana) and Yannick Weber (Mtl) also played with Sbisa not really noticeable while Weber was for the wrong reason, getting victimized on Backes' highlight reel goal.

-Swiss world vet Romano Lemm saw plenty of ice but didn't register a shot.

-Switzerland played their usual pesky tight checking style, finishing every check and taking away the neutral zone, which caused problems for the Americans. Trailing by three, they opened it up in the third and easily could've had more than one goal. But the necessary skill required wasn't there. I also would've pulled Hiller to get that second goal.

Both teams are off tomorrow before returning to the ice Thursday. Team USA faces Norway while the Swiss have to deal with Canada in primetime. Yikes.

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