Team USA opened its Olympic hockey campaign on a high note with a 3-1 win (live blog) over Switzerland on Tuesday, but there’s still some work to be done before it faces Canada on Sunday.
This is not to suggest that Switzerland isn’t a good opponent, but the USA was a clear favorite heading into the game, just as they will be on Thursday when they face Norway. But in order to avoid a major upset or let bad habits linger, Team USA must correct its mistakes quickly.
At the top of the list of correctable items should be eliminating their opponent’s odd-man rushes. The Americans were outshot by the Swiss 6-2 in the third period, and whether that was fatigue, letting up a bit or not following the system put in place by head coach Ron Wilson, that needs to be addressed before Thursday. The issue needs to be worked out against Norway, so it’s not a worry heading into the big tilt with Canada on Sunday.
“We need to take care of that for sure,” U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey Devils) told NBC’s Pierre McGuire after the game. “The further you go in the tournament, the better the talent will be. And the better teams will make you pay when you allow that many odd-man rushes.”
On the bright side, there were some very good performances in red, white and blue. Forward David Backes (St. Louis Blues) scored an amazing goal to put the U.S. up 2-0 in the second period, skating around the Swiss defense and switching from the backhand to his forehand in an instant to beat Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks). Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues) was a major presence on the American blue line and Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) came up with some big saves in the third to preserve the win.
Those three players are our three stars for the game (1. Backes, 2. Johnson, 3. Miller) and if the USA is to have a chance at pulling off a major upset on Sunday against the host country,it will need to follow its lead, play better as a unit and tighten up its overall game.
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