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Analysis: Canada Beat U.S. at its Own Game

Friday, 02.21.2014 / 9:00 PM / News
By Shawn P. Roarke  - NHL.com Managing Editor
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Analysis: Canada Beat U.S. at its Own Game
The U.S. game plan during the 2014 Sochi Olympics was attack with speed all over the ice. In the semifinals Friday, Canada took that strategy and executed it better than the Americans.



SOCHI, RUSSIA --
For four games here, the United States made its opponents nervous.

With a bevy of speedy forwards, the U.S. forced teams like Slovenia and Slovakia to start on their heels, which ultimately cost them dearly. Even powerful Russia was caught flat-footed a few times in their epic preliminary-round encounter, won by the United States in a shootout. In the quarterfinal, the Czech Republic had no answers for the group of fleet-footed forwards at the disposal of American coach Dan Bylsma.

On Friday, though, Canada was a far more difficult nut to crack. The Canadian team doesn't panic. It has the skill and speed to go toe-to-toe against any team in the 2014 Sochi Olympic field. It also has the pedigree of multiple championships at major international tournaments, including a gold medal four years ago, won against many of these same American players.

Most importantly, Canada had a game plan it knew would neutralize much of the American speed.

It worked to perfection, too, as Canada won a taut 1-0 game in the Olympic hockey tournament semifinal at Bolshoy Ice Dome. A deflection goal by Jamie Benn was the difference between the two teams as Canada advances to play Sweden for the gold Sunday (7 a.m. ET, NBC, CBC) while the Americans are relegated to a bronze-medal matchup Saturday against Finland (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC).

So, what was the game plan?

Canada "out-American'd" the Americans.

It used its speed and its relentlessness to put the United States on its heels after a few strong early shifts gave the Americans hope.

"That was as fast a game as I have ever been part of," Bylsma said.

It was the Canadians dictating the pace the majority of the time. As a result, the Americans were chasing a game for the first time in the tournament. They didn't enjoy it.

"We sat back. We were passive," American defenseman Ryan Suter said. "You can't play scared. I thought we sat on our heels and just didn't take it to them at all."

"We had motivation. We just didn't take it on the ice."

Or perhaps the Canadians took it away from them.

When playing a Mike Babcock-coached team, two things are going to happen: His team forechecks like fiends and a game plan to have his team own the puck as much as possible is set in place. It is what he does with the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL and it was what he did Friday, using even more skilled players.

"Our backchecking was excellent [Friday], our forechecking was good," said Canadian goalie Carey Price, who was brilliant on the rare occasions the defense faltered. "We were trying to stay on the right side of the puck the whole night."

When the Canadians had the puck, they kept it as long as possible, enjoying long stretches of possession in the American zone. The Sidney Crosby line and the Ryan Getzlaf line were exceptionally good at this.

When they didn't have the puck, the Canadians jammed the neutral zone to stymie the American attack. When the puck was in the attacking zone for the Americans, the Canadians attacked with gusto trying to reclaim it.

"I felt the guys did a great job with the gaps through the neutral zone where they generate a lot of their speed," Getzlaf said.

"It seems like we had a tough time sustaining any pressure in their end," American forward Ryan Callahan said. "They outnumbered us in their zone, came up with it quick, and as we expected they were quick on transition."

Yet there still are times in every game that one team will have possession despite the opposition's best efforts. The United States did have control of the puck in the attacking zone enough to be dangerous occasionally, but they never could string together a series of shots.

"They did a good job of keeping us to the outside, limiting our chances and traffic in front of the net," American forward David Backes said. "We need to get to those hard areas and sustain that zone time to make sure we're getting bodies there. Didn't do that enough [Friday]."

Plus Price often dictated the pace of play in the Canada end. At the slightest hint of trouble Price would smother the puck and get a whistle, allowing his team to redouble its efforts.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 82 41 38 23 79
J. Thornton 82 11 65 20 76
P. Marleau 82 33 37 0 70
L. Couture 65 23 31 21 54
B. Burns 69 22 26 26 48
T. Wingels 77 16 22 11 38
D. Boyle 75 12 24 -8 36
J. Demers 75 5 29 14 34
T. Hertl 37 15 10 11 25
M. Nieto 66 10 14 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Stalock 12 5 2 .932 1.87
A. Niemi 39 17 7 .913 2.39
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