If this was supposed to be a confidence builder for Team USA, well, let’s just say it left something to be desired.
Sure the Americans managed to skate off with their second consecutive victory in these Olympics. They even managed to run up the score at the end of the game, which is never a bad thing in a tournament where goal differential means something.
But can anyone honestly say that this team has looked capable of beating Canada or any of the other powerhouses so far? Even after a 6-1 victory over a Norwegian team that is out of its element against NHL-stacked rosters?
Didn't think so. The Americans did a lot of good things getting past Norway, problem is they didn’t really set the right wheels in motion as they look ahead to a crucial clash against Canada on Sunday. Or maybe they just got them stuck in neutral.
“We’re got to be stronger in the first two periods,” opined forward David Backes, a somewhat surprising choice for the roster who has been one of the most effective American players in the first two games.
“We were sloppy in the neutral zone and gave them too chances and we can’t do that against Canada because they’ve got too much talent top the bottom. Even tonight, I don’t think 6-1 wasn’t indicative of what went on because they may have tired out at the end.”
The Norwegians also ran out of gas when Canada routed them 8-0 in the tournament opener, but by the time they did, the outcome had long been decided. Against Team USA, the late third period collapse opened the door for the final three American goals, but what that essentially did was put away a game that was a lot closer than it should have been. That's not a good sign.
Truth is the Americans let Norway hang around far too long by displaying many of the same decision-making flaws that were apparent against Switzerland in the opener. Team USA is built with speed and it is trying to take advantage of that by having its defensemen join in on the rush to create added offensive pressure. That's not necessarily a bad thing, except that the Americans were again too reckless and frequently got caught giving up odd man rushes that would have done then in against an opponent with finishing power.
“I think we want our D involved, but for sure we can’t turn the puck over as much as we did,” said Zach Parise.
Still Team USA can take several positives out of the win. Goaltender Ryan Miller, who struggled in the run-up to the tournament, only had to face 11 shots, but he was sharp when necessary in his last tune-up before facing the Canadians. The top line of Parise, Paul Stastny and Patrick Kane picked up a goal and looked far more comfortable than in the opener, and the second unit of Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel and Ryan Malone was a threat every time it was on the ice.
And Team USA's defense was physical and moved the puck well, if a little too dangerously at times.
“Obviously you have a lot more respect for Canadian forwards than some of these guys we’ve played so far,” veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski. “We’ll have to be a little more conscious more aware of what’s going on defensively.”
Actually, a lot more.