USA Hockey Report Card: Special Teams Helps Americans Past Russians

USAThe United States’ men’s hockey team had to know that it was going to get a tougher test on Saturday against Russia than it had against Slovakia in the tournament opener. That was certainly the case.

The U.S. and Russia played one of the best games in recent Winter Olympics memory on Saturday morning in early-round play. The instant classic was eventually won by a T.J. Oshie goal in the shootout. Before it got to that point, however, a lot happened.

Get all caught up with the Team USA report card below.

Forwards
The Team USA forwards weren’t as dominant as they were against Slovakia, but that was to be expected. That being said, they were really good once again. The line of Joe Pavelski flanked by James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel has been the best line in the entire tournament, save for perhaps the Canadian’s fourth line. Ryan Callahan was one of the few forwards who wasn’t great in the first game, but he was an underrated player against Russia, especially in his own zone. Again, the depth is incredible. There are few teams, if any, who have a forwards group that’s playing as well defensively as the American forwards are right now. Team USA was great again in the faceoff circle as they won 40 of 71 draws (56.3 percent), with Ryan Kesler winning nine of 15 and Paul Statsny winning six of 10.

Grade: B+

Defensemen
Saturday was a mixed bag for the defensemen. One thing that has stood out through two games is how aggressive the American blueliners have been. They haven’t been afraid to jump into a play. We saw it in the first game on John Carlson’s first goal, and we saw it again Saturday on multiple occassions. Cam Fowler did that on the power play, and it turned into a goal when he crashed the net and scored on a rebound. Defensively, however, there were some lapses. Brooks Orpik and Carlson were caught giving up too much space to the middle of the ice, which led to Pavel Datsyuk’s first goal.

Grade: B

Goaltending
Jonathan Quick was fantastic. The Team USA goalie ended up making 29 saves. He may have been at his best in the shootout where he made three incredible saves. That included a ridiculous glove save on Ilya Kovalchuk that set the stage for Oshie’s game-winning shootout goal. Quick also made a handful of memorable saves during regulation as well. His save on an Evgeni Malkin power-play chance was a game-changer. Quick might get the day off Sunday against Slovenia, but this has to be his team once the Americans reach elimination play.

Grade: A

Special teams
Both units showed improvement, which was to be expected as they gained more familiarity. The power play was especially improved, as the Americans scored its two goals on the man-advantage. The combination of Kessel and van Riemsdyk on the first unit was dynamic, and it was their work that led to Fowler’s goal. The second power-play goal was a thing of beauty. Kesler won an offensive-zone faceoff, Patrick Kane made a tremendous cross-ice pass, and Pavelski buried it. The penalty kill was also strong and helped slow the Russians at crucial times. The Americans killed a penalty to open the third period at a seemingly vulnerable time. The Americans did allow the game-tying, power-play goal to Datsyuk in the third period. Datsyuk scored on a great shot with Quick being screened in front.

Grade: B+

Next up: Team USA wraps up preliminary round play on Sunday against Slovenia. Puck drop is at 7:30 a.m. ET.

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