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

Friday, 02.21.2014 / 6:00 PM PT / 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

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AWAY
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STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - ANA 78 49 22 7 227 216 105
2 x - NSH 77 47 22 8 220 188 102
3 STL 76 46 23 7 229 190 99
4 CHI 76 46 24 6 217 176 98
5 MIN 76 44 25 7 219 186 95
6 VAN 76 44 27 5 219 204 93
7 CGY 77 42 28 7 229 204 91
8 WPG 76 39 25 12 215 201 90
9 LAK 76 37 25 14 201 192 88
10 DAL 77 37 30 10 239 248 84
11 SJS 76 37 30 9 212 215 83
12 COL 76 35 29 12 206 213 82
13 EDM 76 23 40 13 185 255 59
14 ARI 77 23 46 8 161 256 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 76 36 31 9 67
L. Couture 76 25 37 -4 62
J. Thornton 72 14 48 -5 62
B. Burns 76 16 40 -6 56
P. Marleau 76 17 36 -17 53
T. Wingels 69 15 20 -5 35
T. Hertl 76 12 17 -2 29
M. Nieto 66 8 16 -11 24
M. Vlasic 70 9 14 12 23
J. Braun 65 1 22 6 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Stalock 7 7 2 .905 2.55
A. Niemi 29 22 7 .914 2.62
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