|Team USA improved to 2-0-0 at the Olympics.
VANCOUVER -- Team USA has navigated its way to the desired winner-take-all showdown against Canada in Group A of the Olympic hockey tournament. But, they do so with a fragile sense of confidence.Photos
| Johnson Post Game
Team USA defeated Norway, 6-1, at Canada Hockey Place on Thursday afternoon, but neither the scoreline nor the way it was crafted will do much to give American coach Ron Wilson or his players a sense of calmness heading into the showdown with a Canada side that appears to be clicking on all cylinders after beating Norway 8-0 just two nights ago.
Canada plays Switzerland later this afternoon and, barring an upset by the Swiss, should reach the last game of Group A play with the same 2-0-0-0 record as the Americans. The top team in each of the three groups at the end of pool play are given byes into the quarterfinals. The second-place team with the best record is also given a bye, while the other eight teams must play in Tuesday's win-or-go-home qualification round.
The Americans received goals from Phil Kessel, Chris Drury and Patrick Kane in the game's first 25 minutes, but then stumbled until getting three late goals. For the second-straight game, the Americans' bottom two lines far outplayed the supposed scoring lines. Not until the final minutes, when Ryan Malone made it 4-0 before Brian Rafalski added a pair of goals -- could the Americans breathe a little easier.
The United States wound up outshooting Norway 39-11, including 16-2 in the third period.
It was second-liner Kessel who scored Team USA's first goal, showing the speed that put him on this team. San Jose's Joe Pavelski gathered in a clear from Malone and fed a speculative lead pass into the neutral zone. Kessel collected it in stride and beat Norway's top defenseman, Mats Trygg, to the attacking blue line.
From there, it was all over. Kessel took a few strides before ripping a laser beam of a wrister just inside the far post. The puck was still clanging off the goal posts as Kessel raised his arms in celebration.
Drury, the captain of the New York Rangers, scored a far different type of goal to make it 2-0 -- one that goal suited his style. He craftily found his way in the slot, got position on Norway's Lars Erik Lund and was, consequently, in position to stuff the rebound of Ryan Callahan's shot through the legs of the Norwegian goalie, Pal Grotnes.
Kane, expected to be Team USA's biggest gun in this tournament, also scored one of his trademark goals to give the Americans a 3-0 lead. Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks star, used his speed to cut through the neutral zone before dishing to New Jersey's Zach Parise. The Devils winger blasted a heavy slapper that Grotnes could not catch, and Kane never stopped moving his legs as he drove to the net and picked up the loose puck for an easy put-back.
But not all is well with this American team as it enters its final Group A game against rival Canada on Sunday.
Prior to the late extra-man goal by Rafalski, the U.S. power play was in shambles, showing an alarming lack of chemistry. Too often, Team USA players would gravitate to the same spots in the attacking zone, making crisp puck movement more difficult. At other times, the Americans seemed more content to pass the puck instead of shooting -- they managed only one shot on a pair of second-period power plays.
More distressingly, they gave up a shorthanded goal on the first of those second-period penalties, an offensive-zone holding infraction on Tore Vikingstad at 8:26. But, early on in the power play, the Americans turned the puck over at the attacking blue line to spring Marius Holtet on a 2-on-1 rush with only Jack Johnson back. Holtet eschewed the pass and rifled a far-corner wrister that eluded the flick of Miller's glove.
It was Norway's first goal in the tournament, and it clearly emboldened the underdogs as they started taking the play to an American team desperate to find some cohesiveness.
If not for a spectacular leg save by Miller at 15:40 of the second -- on a redirection by Anders Bastiansen in the low slot -- the Americans could have conceivably entering the third period nursing a one-goal lead against a team that Canada dispatched easily in the previous game. GAME SUMMARY
2 1 3 - 6NOR
0 1 0 - 1First Period
1. USA, Kessel (Pavelski, Malone) 2:39
2. USA, Drury (Callahan, Backes) 13:04
Penalties - Vikingstad NOR (holding stick) 9:50, Zuccharello-Aasen NOR (cross-checking) 17:34Second Period
3. USA, Kane (Parise) 5:52
4. NOR, Holtet (unassisted) 8:37 (SHG)
Penalties - Backes USA (high-sticking) 2:29, Vikingstad NOR (holding) 8:26, Bonsaksen NOR (charging) 12:27Third Period
5. USA, Malone (Johnson, Miller) 14:19
6. USA, Rafalski (Parise, Stastny) 17:00 (PPG)
7. USA, Rafalski (Suter, Pavelski) 19:23
Penalties - Johnson USA (tripping) 2:08, Jakobsen NOR (high-sticking) 16:01SHOTS ON GOALUSA
15-8-16 - 39NOR
2-7-2 - 11Goaltenders (goals-shots against) USA:
Miller (W, 1-11)NOR:
Grotnes (L, 6-39)Power plays USA:
: 0-2By Shawn P. Roarke - Special to LAKings.com