Men's team needs to be better to beat Canada
The final score reads United States 6, Norway 1, but it sure didn’t seem that way.
It wasn’t pretty, but Team USA took care of business here at Canada Hockey Place on Thursday, beating an undermanned, overmatched Norwegian foe with just one fringe NHL player. It didn’t look like the work of a club expected to contend for a medal here in Vancouver until three goals in the last six minutes of play blew the game open and pushed that all important goal differential to plus-7.
“It’s sometimes tough when you put teams together this quickly,” said forward Patrick Kane. “But I think we’re just going to keep getting better every day.”
Too bad there aren’t that many days in this tournament to begin with.
Coming off of an 8-0 loss to Canada, Norway was outshot, out-chanced and beaten up and down the ice over the first 20 minutes of play. Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel scored his first goal of the tournament just three minutes in after Joe Pavelski dished him the puck while streaking into the offensive zone. A pair of dekes and a laser beam of a wrist shot later, the capacity crowd was convinced the onslaught was on.
“Pavs just chipped it to me in the middle there,” Kessel said of his goal. “I kind of had half a breakaway and fortunately I made the most of it.”
And when Chris Drury, the self proclaimed "13th forward" and one of the veterans on a club lacking big-time experience, put home the garbage on Ryan Callahan’s shot in front of Norwegian goaltender Pal Grotnes near the end of the first period, the game was all but over.
Or so we thought.
Norway was able to hang around thanks to turnovers, defensive mishaps and an American club that got caught sleepwalking through a period and a half of hockey. Ryan Miller made only 11 saves, but three quarters of those were legitimate scoring chances off of odd-man rushes, including a two-on-one stop of Lars Erik Spets after a poor decision by Jack Johnson created an opportunity at center ice.
“We kind of fell asleep there in the second period,” forward Ryan Malone said.
And the Norwegians lit the lamp when Jamie Langenbrunner lost an edge, sending Marius Holtet up the right side with Johnson before taking a shoulder high wrist shot that beat the Sabres goaltender, leaving Head Coach Ron Wilson with a hefty smirk that left little to the imagination.
“We can’t make the mistakes we made today from here on out,” Johnson said. “Every team we play from this point in the tournament is going to be a great team. Ryan (Miller) bailed us out big time.”
Miller attributes his club’s aggressive style of play to some of his extra work.
“We really try and go for it and I think that leads to some of those chances,” Miller said. “We want to keep that creativity on offense and our goal is to just keep pushing.”
At the end of the day, the Americans got what they came here for, a pair of wins and three critical third-period goals — two by by defenseman Brian Rafalski — that padded the goal differential, the first tiebreaker in determining the four seeds that bypass the qualification round for the quarterfinals.
“Those were big,” Johnson said. “We understand that goal differential is important. But as long as we take care of business and win our games, it doesn’t matter.”
Now the focus turns to Canada, which for many in the dressing room will be the most overhyped, eagerly anticipated game of their young careers. The prospect of going from the lowest seeded club in the tournament to one of the deepest teams here is a daunting one.
“A lot of it is how hard we choose to play,” Drury said. “How conscious we are of playing the right way, on the right side of pucks and getting pucks deep.”
And if Team USA doesn’t choose to play the right way on Sunday, count on them being on the wrong side of a very ugly result.