February 21, 2014

USA's offense goes MIA in frustrating loss to Canada

By Jesse Connolly

U.S. captain Zach Parise skates away as Canada celebrates its 1-0 victory. (Getty Images)

The United States' 1-0 loss in Friday's semifinal showdown with Canada was equally as perplexing as it was predictable.

The Americans' neighbor to the north had dashed their hopes of winning the men's tournament in two of the last three Olympics, which includes their clash in the gold medal game in Vancouver in 2010. Time after time, the Canadians have served as the hill the U.S. simply couldn't climb over.

But this year, quite simply, felt different.

Despite possessing the most talented roster from top to bottom, Canada came into the semifinals with just 13 goals through four games. By NHL standards, 3.25 goals per game is a solid clip, but the Sidney Crosby-led squad had a sluggish opener against Norway, squeaked by Finland in overtime in their final game of group play, and took until late in the third period to put away Latvia in the quarterfinals.

Canada, for once, seemed vulnerable. The U.S., meanwhile, appeared to have taken on their rival's presumed role of unstoppable freight train in the tournament. The Americans thumped Slovakia and Slovenia by a combined score of 12-2, defeated the host Russians in a 3-2, shootout thriller, and had their way with the Czechs in a 5-2 victory to advance to the semis.

But the team that came in averaging nearly five goals per game in the tournament couldn't manage a single one against Carey Price on Friday.

Jonathan Quick's (Hamden, Conn.) spectacular 36-save performance was all for not, as Price and a downright suffocating Canadian defense blanked the Americans' red-hot offense, which simply never got in sync after stringing together a flurry of quality chances early in the first period.

“We didn’t show up to play. It’s kind of frustrating,” defenseman Ryan Suter told the media. “They’re a good team. We sat back, we were passive. You can’t play scared. I thought we sat on our heels and just didn't take it to them at all.”

When asked by NHL.com's Arpon Basu how his team played, Suter described the performance as "terrible," later adding that it's "tough to win when you don't play in the offensive zone."

The offensive zone is where Canada spent most of the game, using their speed to their advantage throughout the affair. The only goal of the contest came in the second period, when Jamie Benn got open in the slot and redirected a shot-pass from defenseman Jay Bouwmeester past Quick, who stood on his head to keep Team USA in it.

"I think we scored one goal but we generated a lot (of chances) and controlled the game for a big part," Bouwmeester said. "We did a good job, the forwards did a great job tonight on the puck. I think that stopped a lot of their offense before it even started."

Team captain Zach Parise led the Americans with eight shots on goal. He had their best bid to tie the game but was denied on a tip attempt in close by Price. The Americans finished 0-for-3 on the power play.

"I think they just had the puck a little bit more, especially in our zone," center Joe Pavelski said. "We just didn't sustain enough. Its tough to lose 1-0. It's close. You know you're right there. We had enough power plays to catch them."

Forward David Backes, who was on the ice for Canada's lone goal, lamented his team's performance in the loss.

"At the moment, there’s a great conglomeration of both [anger and disappointment]," Backes said. "We had an awesome opportunity. I don’t think we laid it all on the line the way we needed to in order to win. A 1-0 game in a semifinal against your rival country, it’s a sour taste for sure."

The U.S. can still come home with a consolation prize, as they'll face Finland in the bronze medal game Saturday.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com