Olympic Men’s Semi-Final Preview – United States vs. Canada Who has the grit to get through to Gold Medal Game?

2014 Sochi Olympics logoST LOUIS – Power houses prepare to battle while Canada struggles to find scoring touch

#2 United States vs. #3 Canada

What many expected to be match-up of the tournament is playing second fiddle to the other semi-final match-up. Still, any United States vs. Canada battle is worth watching whether it be men’s or women’s hockey. This match-up between traditional North Americans rivals will be a good one, but while the United States is pumping on all cylinders, the Canadians are struggling to score and their stars have pretty much not been on the score sheet throughout the tournament.

For the United States, their only flaw in the tournament has been in giving up a point by winning in a shootout instead of in regulation. Otherwise, they have dominated the competition, just as Sweden has done. To many, the United States has been playing better than expected and this should alarm the Canadians.

Their path to this stage began by winning all three games of preliminary play by defeating the Slovakia 7-1, Russia in a shootout 3-2 and Slovenia 5-1 allowing them to finish atop Group A. After earning a first-round bye, the Americans dispatched the Czech Republic 5-2 to advance to the semi-final.

In these four games, the United States has scored 20 goals, three while with the man-advantage, while only allowing 6, one of which while shorthanded. They have scored on 20 of their 120 shots for a scoring percentage of 16.67%, tops in the tournament. In special teams, they have the tournament’s third-ranked power play scoring on 3 of 11 opportunities for a 27.27% conversion rate while ranking fourth in shorthanded conditions allowing only 1 goal on 10 situations for a 90.00% survival rate. 

Offensively, the United States is getting contributions on all parts of the ice with twelve different players scoring goals. Of their 20 scores, 3 have come from defensemen. Phil Kessel leads all scorers in the tournament with 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points. David Backes has three goals and both Dustin Brown and Paul Stastny have a pair followed by eight other players with one goal. Only one player, captain Zach Parise, has a negative rating at -1.

Defensively, the Americans play a solid, team game where forward back check and defensemen limit quality scoring chances on net. When a threat comes close to the American net, spectacular goaltending keeps pucks out. While Ryan Miller got the win against Slovenia allowing just one goal, Jonathan Quick has the rock in the blue paint. Appearing three games, Quick has stopped 72 of 77 shots for a save percentage of 0.931 and a 1.61 goals against average. The confidence he provides with his game-saving stops and steady play give the Americans a great chance of reaching the gold medal game.

For Canada, despite their four-win record, optimism and excitement has given way to anxious moments and concern. Canada gained their spot in the semi-finals after defeating Norway 3-1, Austria 6-0 and Finland 2-1 in overtime during preliminary play to gain the top spot in Group B. By achieving the second seed, Canada gained a first round bye before facing upstart Latvia. The quarter-final game was tied until late in the third period when Shea Weber’s game-winning goal held up to give Canada the 2-1 victory.

 In these four games, Canada has scored 13 goals, two while with the man-advantage, while only allowing 3, one of which while shorthanded. They have scored on 13 of their 168 shots for a scoring percentage of 7.74%, seventh in the tournament. In special teams, they have the tournament’s second-ranked power play scoring on 2 of 7 opportunities for a 28.57% conversion rate while ranking third in shorthanded conditions allowing only 1 goal on 11 situations for a 90.91% survival rate.

Offensively, Canada has struggled to find scoring assets. Only six different players have scored goals in the four games. Of their 13 scores, just 7 have come from defensemen. Defenseman Drew Doughty leads all Canadian players with four goals while Jeff Carter and defenseman Shea Weber each have three goals. Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash and Chris Kunitz have combined for zero goals and two assists and all players have a positive player rating with Jeff Carter leading at a +5 rating. Canada must get their scorers on track in order to defeat the United States.

 Defensively, Canada has been incredibly solid and arguably the reason they have advanced so far while their scoring has been lacking. While Roberto Luongo gained the 6-0 decision against Austria, Canada has relied on Carey Price who has the other three wins, has turned aside 48 of 51 shots for a 0.942 save percentage and a stingy 0.99 goals against average. Collectively, the Canadian defense has a 0.959 save percentage with a tournament-best 0.74. At this rate, Canada is hoping for a goal or two and then focus on winning a defensive battle with the Americans. Seeing how they have had trouble scoring, this might need to be the focus in order for Canada to have a chance at gold.

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