Team USA Defeats Switzerland 3-1
As Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick were more than willing to tell you during intermission, Team USA struggled a bit in their 3-1 victory over Team Switzerland.
As we mentioned in the preview, the Swiss don't have the firepower up front to put pucks in the net, and the shot total on the day (24-15 in favor of the USA) reflected that. There were a lot of defensive breakdowns and odd-man rushes going the other way towards Ryan Miller, and a lot of missed opportunities that eventually buried Team Switzerland. Julien Sprunger had nearly half the net to choose from midway through the second during a two-on-one, and tried to pick the near corner to no avail.
The third period was largely dominated by Switzerland, with Team USA going into a defensive shell that Ron Wilson coached teams should be well aware of. Lots of chipping pucks out and dumping pucks in, and the Americans didn't attack the offensive zone as much as I would have liked-- Team Switzerland was very aggressive in the last thirty minutes, something that differed greatly from the gameplan they wanted to implement throughout the entire tilt.
That being said, it's obvious the Americans will have an opportunity to improve. Their first full practice of the Games was held yesterday, and with five days to prepare for Team Canada on the 21st, it should be plenty of time to iron out the kinks. Knocking Norway around on Thursday is a must if they hope to receive a favorable seed going into eliminations-- while the three points gained from a regulation win is ultimately the story of the day, a +2 in goal differential at this point makes it hard to squeeze into the top four unless they manage to shoot the lights out going forward or win their next two remaining games.
It should be interesting to see how the defensive pairings manage to grow together; it is a definite weakness for the team despite a good defensive forward group. There were some instances where both defenseman would overcommit below the red line, something that will be highlighted against a high scoring team such as Russia or Canada.
Jonas Hiller was his typical self, flashy as hell with glove saves and making some good stops throughout the game. Ryan Miller was solid apart from a botched poke check that cut the deficit to 3-1 in the third, but definitely benefited from the aforementioned Swiss forward group's inability to put the puck in the net.
Goal of the game would have to go to David Backes, who took the puck 190 feet down the ice after a Miller save. Swiss defenseman Yannick Weber, who plays for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL, gave him way too much space on the outside and got beat below the circles where Backes made a nice power move to the net to slip it past Hiller who was unable to get across the crease in time. USA's opening goal was also pretty-- Backes did a good job of keeping the play alive in the zone with a hit on a Swiss forward. Bobby Ryan collected the loose puck, drove to the middle, and used the traffic between the circles to mask his shot which beat Hiller high glove side.
I thought Joe Pavelski had a good game; he was parked in front of the net on the Americans power play goal, and kept digging at Hiller to allow Ryan Malone an opportunity to jam it home. His linemates for the majority of the game were Malone and Phil Kessel, and they did a good job on the low cycle throughout the tilt. Towards the end of the game Wilson made the decision to skate him with Chris Drury, a decision I think we'll continue see when the USA is protecting a lead. Both players are very defensively responsible and should provide a solid shutdown line alongside Brown-Kesler-Langenbrunner.
All in all, it's good to see three points in the bag for Team USA. Pad the goal differential Thursday against Norway, and gear up for what should be a high voltage matchup Sunday with Patrick Marleau and Team Canada.