While there were justifiable smiles as Team USA trudged off the Canada Hockey Place ice surface after a hard-fought 3-1 win against Switzerland in the opening game of the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament, there also was a sense of purpose.
To a man, the Americans know they were far from perfect in the Group A opener. They plan to be better in Thursday's game against Norway, which was manhandled by Canada, 8-0, in Tuesday's other Group A game.
The Americans also realize they have to be at their best for Sunday's final game of the group stage, against Canada and likely with an automatic bye into the quarterfinal on the line for the winning team.
"A win's a win, but we've got a lot of work to do to be where we want to be," St. Louis Blues forward David Backes said.
Backes, playing on the fourth line, scored the prettiest goal of Tuesday's win and was on the ice for another fourth-line goal, by Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, who had an Olympic debut to remember.
So it was pleasing to coach Ron Wilson to hear a member of his young-pup contingent already talking the company line.
"Yes, there are things we have to work on," Wilson said less than an hour after the win. "We have a game against Norway and they will provide a different set of problems."
Actually, the only issues Norway likely will provide Tuesday are an impressive work rate and a passive forecheck that will clog the neutral zone and make it difficult to safely navigate the neutral zone. But it only took Canada a period before it found answers and commenced with the rout.
So the U.S. will be looking to address their self-identified deficiencies, while still making sure they dispatch Norway to set up a winner-take-all game against Canada for the group title.
What exactly will the U.S. look to improve upon during the next 48 hours? Most importantly, they just want to establish a sense of team chemistry. Aside from the fourth line, none of the forward trios showed much cohesiveness in Tuesday's opener. But Wilson seemed nonplussed by the apparent lack of chemistry exhibited by some of his forward lines.
"You can't have a 35-minute practice and have everything work and clicking," the Toronto Maple Leafs coach said. "You don't have anybody that plays on the same line on their NHL teams."
Still, Team USA's top line -- Patrick Kane
, Zach Parise and Paul Stastny -- created only a few dangerous chances in the game, including the game's first shift.
"I thought the Swiss did a really good job in their D-zone positioning when that line had the puck, so I don't think they had a lot of chances," Team USA GM Brian Burke said. "But they had good puck possession and good puck movement. They just didn't generate a lot of offense. That will come. I thought we over-passed the puck a lot today."
A lack of shooting conviction plagued the whole U.S. roster. Despite owning a healthy advantage in attacking-zone play -- especially in the first two periods -- the Americans had just 24 shots.
"We have to shoot the puck more and maybe be a little more selfish," Wilson said.
And the Americans know they have to learn to finish games. Up 3-0 against Switzerland entering the third period, the U.S. allowed a soft goal to the Swiss and then couldn't stop the bleeding. Instead, Switzerland owned the third period and generated a handful of dangerous odd-man breaks.
"I think we're going to have to realize the situation of games a little better," U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner told NHL.com. "We got caught on some two-on-ones and three-on-twos late in the game, which we can't do. We have to realize the time and the score and play accordingly, play winning hockey. That'll come.
"Everybody wants to do their best out there and create things, and the more we get relaxed and the more we feel comfortable, we'll get better."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor