More on the line in U.S.-Switzerland rematch
Wednesday, 02.24.2010 / 12:00 PM
NHL.comUnited States (3-0-0-0, 9 points) vs. Switzerland (0-2-1-1, 5 points)
NOTE: records are presented as three-point wins (regulation time), two-point wins (OT or shootout), one-point losses (OT or shootout), zero-point losses (regulation time).
What to watch --
On the line is a berth in Friday's semifinals. The U.S. last medaled in Olympic hockey in 2002, winning silver. Switzerland hasn't been on the podium since 1948, when it earned bronze. These teams have met in the Olympics eight previous times, resulting in seven wins for the U.S.
Having already met in the first game of the tournament last week, it will be interesting to see if either team takes a different approach in this rematch. Obviously, both squads have had the opportunity to forge better chemistry since meeting Feb. 16. In that contest, the U.S. took a 3-0 lead after two periods en route to a 3-1 victory. Bobby Ryan and David Backes scored unassisted goals, and Ryan Malone provided a power-play score with an assist from Ryan Suter. The U.S. held a 24-15 advantage in shots, and goaltender Ryan Miller made 14 saves and came within 10:15 of posting a shutout in his Olympic debut.
"This was a very good opening game for the whole team," said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. "It was the first Olympic experience for a lot of our players and I loved our discipline. We're learning more about each other every day and we want to get better with each game."
Since then, the Americans have built incredible momentum leading into the single-elimination portion of the tournament, and confidence is high after knocking off arch-rival Canada. Their two highest scorers are defensemen, Brian Rafalski (4-1-5) and Suter (0-4-4), and 15 of 20 skaters have recorded at least one point. Miller has the third-best save percentage (.929) after the preliminary round and has played every second in net.
Switzerland has produced 10 regulation goals in four games, two each coming from forwards Roman Wick, Romano Lemm and Julien Sprunger. They have received workmanlike goaltending from Jonas Hiller (.896 save percentage in preliminary round), who also has played every second for his team.
Last game --
United States defeated Canada 5-3 on Sunday in the preliminary round; Switzerland defeated Belarus 3-2 in a shootout on Tuesday in the qualification round.
United States --
After defeating Switzerland, Backes said, "A win's a win, but we've got a lot of work to do to be where we want to be." Well, there's no better place to be after the preliminary round than the No. 1 seed in the tournament. But should the U.S. not win a fourth straight game, all it's achieved until now will be forgotten rather quickly. The pressure is on, and some of it from an unlikely source.
Despite beating Canada on its home turf Sunday, GM Brian Burke said his team was fortunate to escape with a win because the U.S. was outplayed in two periods and was bailed out by a heroic effort from Miller, who made 42 saves.
"You guys are probably going to be shocked by this, but I'm not happy with the way we've played to this point," Burke said the day after the game. "If that's how we play, we're going to have a hard time getting to where we want to get here and medaling."
The U.S. twice coughed up a one-goal lead, and was outshot 19-6 in first period and 14-4 in the third. By contrast, Canada goalie Martin Brodeur faced only 22 shots and the U.S. was fortunate to capitalize on his poor puckhandling moments, which may have made all the difference in the final outcome.
"We got outchanced 2-1 (Sunday) night," Burke said. "Our goaltender stole us a game. That's what happened. People can say that Canada didn't play well. I don't agree with that. Except for the goaltending position, we didn't deserve to win that game."
The U.S. was the least-penalized team in the preliminary round, as they played shorthanded only 14 minutes (seven minor penalties) in three games.
Since the 3-1 loss to the U.S., the Swiss have regrouped nicely and have not been easy to play against. A 3-2 shootout loss to Canada, a 5-4 overtime win against Norway, and the 3-2 shootout victory against Belarus have taken this team on a wild roller-coaster ride, so they should be ready for anything that comes their way in a rematch against the U.S.
After the back-and-forth victory against Norway, the only preliminary-round game Switzerland was favored to win, captain Mark Streit admitted his squad plays its best as underdogs.
Streit will be a central figure and has to play better Wednesday if the Swiss have any chance at an upset. He has 3 assists in four games, taking only four shots on goal and recording a minus-1 while averaging a team-high 26:26 of ice time per game. He played over 30 minutes against Belarus and might not be fully recovered in 24 hours to play a much faster U.S. side, albeit one he knows rather well as one of two Swiss NHL players.
Percentage-wise, Switzerland had the top power play in the preliminary round, with 2 goals in five chances (1-for-3 against the U.S.). Against Belarus, they scored both their regulation goals on three chances with the man-advantage.
Total NHL players on rosters --
U.S. 23; Switzerland 2.
Puck drop --
You can argue that both teams have momentum heading into this quarterfinal match. Switzerland is bringing momentum from Tuesday's nail-biter win against Belarus, but how will they respond to playing two games in two days? The U.S. is coming off an emotional win -- some might say its best in the Olympics since the 1980 Miracle on Ice -- but that was three days ago. Will the time off hurt or help?
"Thank God there are some guys pulling on the rope, but we need everyone pulling on the rope," Burke said. "… Everything gets ratcheted up now. We've got to ratchet it up, too, or all this goes for naught. They don't hand out any medals for finishing first in the preliminary round."
"I would still say we would be the underdogs on our lack of experience, certainly now that the tournament takes on a whole new meaning with single elimination. We do need to get a lot better," said Chris Drury.
NHL.com prediction --
You can argue the fine points of the U.S. win against Canada on Sunday, even call them lucky, but thanks to their tough-love GM there is no mistaking that this team is focused on the big prize, which is only three wins away. If the U.S. plays a tighter defensive game and shows a better killer instinct, Switzerland will have little chance of moving on if Hiller doesn't stand on his head (and he is capable). Depth of scoring forwards, size, speed … the U.S. holds every clear advantage and will advance with a 4-1 result.
All-Time Olympic meetings between United States and Switzerland
April 24, 1920 --
U.S. 29, Switzerland 0
February 7, 1936 --
U.S. 2, Switzerland 1
January 30, 1948 --
Switzerland 5, U.S. 4
February 19, 1952 --
U.S. 8, Switzerland 2
February 8, 1964 --
U.S. 7, Switzerland 3
February 4, 1972 --
U.S. 5, Switzerland 3
February 25, 1988 --
U.S. 8, Switzerland 4
February 16, 2010 --
U.S. 3, Switzerland 1