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Knee-jerks: Finland 4 (1), USA 4 (0)

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
MOSCOW–May 10, 2007—This was one wild game.

•    The U.S. came out looking jittery, their passes directed into skates or ahead and behind of stick blades. This was the team's first competitive skate in Khodynka Arena; in their new surroundings the Americans at the start appeared to lack cohesion and poise. The Finns, predictably, defended with a clogged neutral zone. Then Team USA coach Mike Sullivan seemed to orchestrate some space-creating for his charges, as American blueliners directed three consecutive home-run passes, the last of which sprung Eric Cole on a penalty-drawing breakaway.

•    The Finns converted a poorly handled end-around clearing attempt by the U.S., Tuomo Ruutu snapping a low wrister by John Grahame with just under 5:00 minutes left in the period. The U.S. responded poorly, playing rattled in their own end and blowing multiple coverages down low. As time wound down in the opening stanza the Finns went on the power play from the Americans’ lapse in poise, and Team USA faced the daunting prospect of falling into a 2-0 hole against Finnish goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

•    Three U.S. turnovers lead to the first three Finnish goals. This gift-wrapping of scoring chances is especially frustrating for the Americans, as Finland has struggled to score at even strength throughout the tournament. Through the tournament's first six games, Finland had scored a total of seven even strength goals.

•    Many American hockey observers believe that Phil Kessel will play an important role on the 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team. But those games in Vancouver will be contested on NHL-sized sheets of ice (as will next year's World Championships in Halifax and Quebec City), and the Phil Kessel on the large sheet bears little resemblance to that on the smaller one. Here he is a dynamic skating and passing force. While he was at the University of Minnesota and its Olympic-sized sheet, he regularly threaded cross-ice defense killers for tap-ins to teammates. This he did again tonight, sending a laser across the ice to Brandon Bochenski, who guided it to Tyler Arnason for the put-in.   

•    Speaking of Arnason, he had a big game here tonight. In addition to his game-tying tally in the second period, Arnason deftly directed a cross-ice feed to Andrew Hutchinson for yet another game-tying goal in the third period, guiding the disc through a maze of Finns in front of the cage. Hutchinson’s one-timer beat Lehtonen to the short side and sent the game into overtime.

•    Although he took an ill-timed misconduct penalty in the second period, Team USA defenseman Keith Ballard had a stellar night. He issued more than one perfectly timed hip check along the wall, collected an assist and was a plus-1. Ballard had a defining shift midway through the overtime session, delivering a hip check in the corner, making a diving pokecheck to prevent a pass from reaching its intended destination in front of the net, and putting a coda on his outing by blocking a hard Finnish shot.

•    The ice surface was not in the best condition tonight. Just 3:21 into the first period, ice attendants were out on the sheet with shovels scraping away a few blades worth of snow.

•    Team USA defenseman Brian Pothier began the game partnered with Ballard. When Ballard went to the box to serve his misconduct at 15:32 of the middle frame, Sullivan slotted 19-year-old Erik Johnson alongside Pothier. Johnson played well in limited duty, but Pothier shone all night long. He seemed to be always on the ice in the third period and in overtime, making heady plays at both ends of the ice.

•    Lehtonen’s glove hand is where scoring chances go to die. The Americans had success when they forced him to move from side to side.
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