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Five questions ahead of U.S.-Canada semifinal showdown

Feb 20, 2014, 8:23 AM EST

Crosby scores on Miller AP

1. Will the revenge factor work in the Americans’ favor?

“Everyone knows the history of the two teams in Vancouver,” said Sidney Crosby, referring to the 2010 Olympics when the U.S. beat Canada in the preliminary round, only to lose in the gold-medal game. “They’ll be motivated.”

It was the Canadians who were especially motivated four years ago, with all the pressure of hosting the Games on their home ice. Anything less than gold and they’d have experienced something similar to what the Russians are experiencing right now.

According to American forward David Backes, beating the Canadians was “something that was on our list” coming into Sochi.

“We’ve got 13 returners, which are guys really on a mission to avenge our loss in Vancouver in the gold-medal game,” he said.

Watch the game live online Friday at noon

While Backes didn’t want to overstate things — “the team that loses this isn’t shamed out of the tournament,  or anything like that” — he clearly hasn’t forgotten the disappointment he felt when Crosby scored the golden goal.

2. Will the Canadian forwards start scoring?

Given the depth of talent up front, it’s somewhat extraordinary that only four Canadian forwards have managed to score in four games. Crosby remains goalless, as does Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Rick Nash, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, and Patrice Bergeron — all of whom have received a considerable amount of ice time from coach Mike Babcock.

Not that they haven’t had their chances.

“I mean, we were all over them,” Crosby said after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Latvia. “To get that many shots and that many good quality chances, it was tough to not see it go in.”

The next day, Crosby was again forced to answer questions about his lack of statistical production.

VIDEO: Will Canada raise its level pf play vs. U.S.?

“If the chances are there, you can’t really do much besides make sure you focus on putting them in. I don’t think I’m second guessing anything,” he said.

“I’m playing and reacting, trusting that it’s going to go in and sometimes it feels like it’s not going in very easily, but usually it takes one and they all start going in. I think that’s kind of been the theme with our entire team. We’ve been right around there, doing a lot of good things and we just have to trust and keep doing that until eventually the pucks start going in in bunches.”

There also seems to be a sense among the Canadians that playing the U.S. — as opposed to European sides like Norway, Finland, and Latvia — will be a better fit, style wise.

“Looking at some of the teams we played, they focused first and foremost on checking us and making our lives miserable in the offensive zone,” said Toews. “It just seems like you need one, two or three plays to go right for things to work against those teams. Tomorrow, I think we can check well, we can concentrate on our defensive game and try to make them make mistakes.”

3. Will the American forwards keep scoring?

“I think the Americans have scored really easy in the tournament,” said Babcock. “The puck just seems to go in the net for them, so they’ve been a good team. I don’t think they’ve had a match-up, besides the Russians, where they were beat at all. They’ve just beat everyone big time.”

Phil Kessel has led the way for the U.S., with five goals in four games. Backes has three goals. Dustin Brown and Paul Stastny have two each.

Against Canada, however, the Americans will face a team that’s surrendered just three goals all tournament long, and one that features arguably the best blue line in the world as well as two of the most celebrated defensive forwards, Toews and Bergeron, in the sport.

VIDEO: Highlights from U.S. win vs. Czech Republic

“We are not going to try to outshoot a team like Canada,” said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma. “We are going in with a blue-collar mentality, to outwork them. We want to win a low-scoring game, a 2-1 game.”

4. How will the American defense hold up?

Against the Russians, Ryan Suter was on the ice for almost 30 minutes, with Bylsma shortening his bench to defend a team with a dangerous top six.

Well, the Canadians not only have a dangerous top six, they have a dangerous top 12. Even after losing John Tavares, all four lines are still filled with NHL all-stars, and that can’t be said for any of the teams the U.S. has faced so far.

Suter should play a ton again Friday, as should Ryan McDonagh. But the difference may be in the performance of a youngster like Cam Fowler or Kevin Shattenkirk, or a veteran like Brooks Orpik or Paul Martin.

If the Americans were going to have an Achilles’ heel in Sochi, a lot of people thought it would be the blue line. So far, that hasn’t been the case. But the U.S. hasn’t seen anything like Canada.

5. How will the goaltending story play out?

Because, really, what big hockey game doesn’t end with at least some talk about the goaltenders? Jonathan Quick and Carey Price have both been solid so far. The former has a .935 save percentage in three games; the latter has a .941 save percentage, also in three games.

“When I’ve seen Quick make some big saves early, he seems to become unbeatable,” said Drew Doughty of Quick, his teammate in L.A. “That’s why we’ve got to get one early on him. The only way we’re going to score on him is that we’ve got to get pucks up high, and we’ve got to get screens in front, and tips. He’s going to make the easy saves every time. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

VIDEO: Highlights from Canada’s win vs. Latvia

As for Price? “He’s an unbelievable goalie, so skilled. He’s awesome, and he’s come up big when we needed him. And it’s tough for a goalie to play with only 15, 16 shots. It’s not easy, and he’s done an unbelievable job.”

Still, both Bylsma and Babcock have left themselves open to considerable second-guessing given the guys they relegated to the bench. Ryan Miller was brilliant for the U.S. four years ago in Vancouver, and his numbers this season in Buffalo are better than Quick’s in Los Angeles. Roberto Luongo, meanwhile, won gold for Canada in 2010, and he’s got far more big-game experience than Price, even if all those big games haven’t gone particularly well.

Bylsma and Babcock would’ve been left open to second-guessing whichever goalie they went with, but that won’t make the debate any less heated should one of Quick or Price perform poorly on Friday.

  1. dirt2013 - Feb 20, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    Sounds like this article says the USA shouldn’t even lace them up against the Canadians. It’s not like they blew them out 4 years ago.

    • Meta - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      Pretty much everyone interviewed for this article was a Canadian aside from David Backes and like one quote from bylsma. Where are the US perspectives? Pacioretty is on the Canadiens, why not ask him about getting to Price?

  2. avscup - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    Obviously Canada is the team to beat. I hope Babcock keeps using all 12 of those top forwards. Seems to be working…keeping them from developing rhythm! As for his comment about scoring

    • avscup - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:05 AM

      “Scoring easy,” nothing like hard work and getting pucks and players to the net, eh? It works!

    • hockey412 - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:12 AM

      You know, I think I agree with you (if I understand what you’re saying). The second time I watched the Canada/Latvia game I couldn’t help but feel like their shifts are just too short – you get one chance to get possession in the O zone and if not, dump and change…Babcock knows a hell of a lot more than me, though…but still there are a lot of really talented forwards on that squad not scoring.

  3. pastabelly - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    2010 isn’t relevant for either team as to selection of goalies. Each coach made the right call for 2014 and neithe call should be second guessed.

    The two biggest X factors for me are both on the US side. The first is whether their defense is too young and second is whether their overall team speed will prove too much for the Canadians to handle. The defense struggled against the Russian power play and that has me a bit worried.

  4. hockey412 - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    “U.S. hasn’t seen anything like Canada”

    Neither had Latvia, neither had Finland…

    • avscup - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:28 AM

      Canada has not seen anything like the USA. Not even close!

      • soro17 - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        Canada beat Finland quite easily (the score was close but the game wasn’t). Finland beat Russia easily. The Americans beat Russia with an asterisk (net was marginally off, win in a shootout). Ergo, Canada easily beats the US.

      • steelpenbucs87 - Feb 20, 2014 at 1:24 PM

        When will people like soro learn that there is no transitive property of sports….

      • soro17 - Feb 20, 2014 at 2:58 PM

        It was sarcastic.

    • pastabelly - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      Canada hasn’t seen anything like the USA.

      • lateralous - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:57 AM

        Another tough game for all of the big boys in the preliminary round would have been nice. If you’re going to make the effort to have a best on best tournament, make sure we get to see Russia vs Canada. Obviously teams like Latvia, Slovenia and Switzerland had some nice showings but those games were more those teams hanging on for dear life. Looking at the schedule coming in, the preliminary round had three big games: Czech vs Sweden, Canada vs Finland and US vs Russia and maybe the Slovaks playing those last two.

  5. jpelle82 - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    the 3rd pair will be tested for the americans. can martin be good enough on the boards to allow orpik to remain the statue he has been in front of his net? hope so but if the canadians get any sort of sustained pressure against those two guys it could mean chances. i expect bylsma to lean heavily on mcdonaugh and suter – like 26-27 minutes heavily.

  6. penvik - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    I’d argue that Finland is playing a better defensive game and has better goaltending than the USA.

    So in essence, Canada HAS seen a team like the Americans already. The USA played Russia, which was a thin team with little defense and good scoring. But Russia can be rattled easy and they give up. Canada will not bend as easily and the USA better pray that puck luck stays away from team canada. It’s either going to be a tight game or a canada blowout 5-1ish

    • jhaegs - Feb 20, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      “or a Canada blowout 5-1ish”

      USA averaging 5 goals/game
      CAN averaging 3.25 goals/game

      Canada has struggled to score, except against Austria (*golf clap). Those were all teams with worse goaltending and defense than USA. I’m not saying we’re going to hang 5 goals on CAN, but that would be more plausible than CAN scoring THREE goals.

      ————
      ————

      “Mr. Penvik, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I’ve ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response was there anything that could even be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul!”

    • pastabelly - Feb 20, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      Has Canada been blowing anybody out? Has the US?

  7. jhaegs - Feb 20, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 ‘MURICA!!! 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  8. purpleguy - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    Admittedly, it is going to be tough to beat Canada, and it’s a shame this is the semi-final game. The fact that so many Canadians are arrogant as heck about the predicted result makes me want the USA win that much more.

  9. pigpen1013 - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    At what point have any Canadian players said or done anything that could possibly be construed as being arrogant? I haven’t seen or read any interviews or even any overheard off the cuff remarks where any Canadian player has said anything except for what a talented team the US is and how they’re going to have to play hard and smart if they want the win. Even Babcock made a comment about how talented they are and how they seem to be scoring at will. Which part of that is arrogant? If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, I’d just like to have some proof to back up your wild allegation. To think it’s gonna be anything but a hard fought battle between two powerhouse teams is ridiculous.

    • jpelle82 - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:52 AM

      i think he was referring to canadians – as in the citizens/fans that show up on message boards, twitter, facebook. not necessarily the players…but i might be wrong. i agree the players havent been that way at all.

  10. soro17 - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:55 AM

    Question 3 cannot be emphasized enough. The US hasn’t really played a team that can play defense (my apologies to Slovenia). Canada has been able to move the puck out of their zone with ease and has spent probably less than 15% of the tournament in their own zone. The end result – and a point that has not been mentioned enough – 3 goals against in four games.

    • narfmoo12 - Feb 20, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      In theory, Canada has been so dominant in the offensive zone, that they haven’t really had to play defense so far. Nobody they’ve faced has put up much of an offensive fight, so are Canada’s defensemen ready for USA’s offense? More importantly, Can Canada score if its defensemen aren’t able to focus so much on offense?

      • soro17 - Feb 20, 2014 at 12:05 PM

        This argument could run in cirles forever – can the American forwards score when they are in their own zone the whole time? So, to end the argument I will rely on the universal truth of sports – defence wins championships!

      • narfmoo12 - Feb 20, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        Based on the “c” in defense, I’m assuming you’re Canadian. But yes, this could go in circles forever.

      • soro17 - Feb 20, 2014 at 12:18 PM

        That obvious? I could be British, Aussie, South African or Indian or from anywhere else that spells defence properly and has a passion for hockey!

      • narfmoo12 - Feb 20, 2014 at 1:10 PM

        So Canada hahaha

      • jpelle82 - Feb 20, 2014 at 2:32 PM

        properly? do you spell defensive with a c? root word is defensum – Latin. even the original english was defens. in the magna carta it was spelled with s. in italian, french, spanish, portugese and just about any other romantic language derivative its spelled with an s. de-fence means to remove the fence.

  11. flyerspsu - Feb 20, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    Canada certainly has the edge on defense but call me crazy but i like the USA’s offensive lineup moreso than Canada’s

    Canada’s has more skill but i feel like the USA just has this really sound well rounded team with seemingly the perfect mix of gritty two way players and scorers that can light it up

    id assume im in the minority here but that is just my thought for now, we’ll see what happens tomorrow

    • 7mantel - Feb 20, 2014 at 7:32 PM

      totally agree ! We are — !

  12. pigpen1013 - Feb 20, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    Maybe a rad off topic there guys…

  13. pigpen1013 - Feb 20, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    *tad

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