Jonas Hiller might have pulled off a Ryan Miller had he been able to follow the bouncing puck a little better.
And still he came close to doing it.
Truth is the hot potato thing was really the only flaw in an otherwise superb performance by the Swiss goaltender. But it was enough to provide Team USA with a tougher-than-expected 2-0 win and a trip to the Olympic tournament semifinals.
Hiller was superb in this game much the way Miller was against Canada in the preliminaries, a virtually impenetrable wall under constant siege. He had to be against a Team USA that hit the forecheck button hard from the opening faceoff and ended up with 44 shots on goal.
The Americans used their speed to keep pressure on the Swiss throughout the game, dominating territorially, and they had line combinations clicking in a way that bodes well for the rest of this tournament. The first two goals of the Olympics by Zach Parise was also a good sign for Team USA moving forward.
In fact there were a lot of things to like about where the ‘work in progress’ as Team USA likes to call itself is right now. Even if it was still in danger of being shocked at the start of the third period.
That was Hiller’s doing, although his problem was that unlike the guy at the other end, Switzerland doesn’t really have the talent to pull off an upset. There are five players with NHL experience on the roster, but only Hiller and Mark Streit are regulars. And while the Swiss never stopped working, they hung around as long as they did only because of their goalie.
So even when Hiller caught a break in the second period with time expiring as he juggled a shot into the net, there was really no way back for Switzerland when his luck ran out early in the third and he redirected Parise’s deflection behind him for the game’s deciding goal. The Swiss have no finishing power to speak of, and that was deadly once they fell behind against an American team that made sure Miller’s workload was minimal.
Team USA’s goalie was sharp when he had to be, but he faced only 19 shots, mostly because Team USA made sure most others never got through. In fact, the shot blocking by the Americans has been one of the key elements to their success so far, with forwards and defensemen throwing their bodies in the way of pucks at every opportunity.
Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury doing particularly good jobs throwing their bodies in the way of pucks at even strength and in particular when they are leading the very effective penalty kill. They may seem like little things, but Team USA is doing them and doing well, and that means something in this kind of tournament.