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A look at key matchups in Sunday's battle for gold

by John Kreiser
Neither Team USA nor Team Canada will be able to blame a failure to win the gold medal on a lack of familiarity with the opposing team.

All 46 players in Sunday’s championship game (3:15 p.m., NBC, CTV, TSN, SNET, V, RDS) play in the National Hockey League -- in fact, 10 NHL teams have players on both sides. Team USA’s Ryan Kesler will be trying to beat Canadian goaltender Roberto Luongo -- and three days later, he’ll be trying to score goals to help Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks win in Columbus.

American Patrick Kane and Canadian Jonathan Toews sometimes play on the same line together in Chicago. So do Team Canada’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and American Bobby Ryan -- and all three often play in front of Canadian captain and defenseman Scott Niedermayer.

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock will be hoping that American defenseman Brian Rafalski’s scoring touch (4 goals) vanishes -- but only for a day. The two will be on the same bench Monday night in Denver when the Detroit Red Wings visit the Colorado Avalanche as the NHL’s regular-season schedule resumes.

To say that these teams know each other well is an understatement. Here’s a look at how some of the key figures have fared against each other during NHL play.

Goalie Matchup
(head-to-head in NHL career)
Date Miller (USA) Luongo (CAN)
1/25/10 2 3
2/11/06 5 2
1/1/06 1 2
8/15/05 2 3

Had this been the expected meeting between Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur, there would have been a lot of history -- but with Roberto Luongo supplanting Brodeur after the loss to Team USA last Sunday, that all disappears.

Instead, the gold-medal game features goaltenders who’ve faced each other only four times -- and just once since Luongo was traded to Vancouver by Florida in 2006. Luongo has won three of the four matchups, including a 3-2 win by the Canucks over Miller and the Buffalo Sabres in Vancouver on Jan. 25.

All three previous meetings took place in 2005-06, Luongo’s last season with the Florida Panthers.

Miller and the Sabres defeated Luongo and the Panthers 5-2 on Feb. 11, 2006, for Miller’s only victory against a team featuring Luongo in the other goal. Luongo led the Panthers to a 3-2 win in Florida on Oct. 15, 2005, and a 2-1 win over Miller and the Sabres in Buffalo on Jan. 1, 2006.

US Shooters vs. Luongo
Shooter Team  Goals (career)
Patrick Kane 9
Bobby Ryan 8
Phil Kessel 2
Paul Stastny 5
David Backes 5

Patrick Kane personally spoiled Luongo’s spring last year by scoring six times against him as the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks in a six-game Western Conference semifinal series. That included a hat trick in the elimination game. Kane also has three goals in regular-season play against Luongo.

But other Americans have also had success against the Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender.

Bobby Ryan, who plays for the Anaheim Ducks, has scored 3 goals in two games against Luongo this season and five against him in the past two seasons. Phil Kessel scored twice against Luongo less than a month ago while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Paul Stastny, who sees Luongo six times a season while playing for the Colorado Avalanche, had a goal against him in the season-opener and has five during his career.

David Backes has scored four times against Luongo in regular-season play for the St. Louis Blues, including twice in a game this season, and had a playoff goal against him last spring.

CAN Shooters vs. Miller
Shooter Team  Goals (career)
Sidney Crosby 7
Dany Heatley 11
Rick Nash 3
Mike Richards 4
Patrice Bergeron 4

More than half of Team Canada comes from the Western Conference, meaning that they’ve seen Miller only rarely in the four seasons since he became the full-time starter in Buffalo.

No Canadian shooter has given Miller more trouble recently than Sidney Crosby. Sid the Kid has 7 career goals against Miller, including a hat trick in their last meeting, a 5-4 win for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 1. Crosby also had three goals against Miller last season.

Should the game come down to a shootout, expect Canadian coach Mike Babcock to use Crosby as often as possible (teams can repeat shooters after the first three rounds). Sid has had a pair of game-deciding goals against Miller, including the famous winner in the 2008 Winter Classic.

Another Canadian who has fared well against Miller is Dany Heatley, now with the San Jose Sharks. Heatley had a goal against Miller when the Sabres visited San Jose last month and has 9 in his career (plus 2 in the playoffs). However, six of those goals came in 2006-07, including a hat trick on Jan. 3, 2007.

Other Team Canada members who’ve had some success against Miller include Rick Nash (3 goals in just four games) and Mike Richards and Patrice Bergeron (4 goals each).

Shooters (09-10 NHL Season)
Zach Parise 4/8 Sidney Crosby 6/8
Jack Johnson 4/11 Jonathan Toews 7/12
Patrick Kane 4/13
Goalies (Career)
Ryan Miller 28 Wins (47 Dec.) Roberto Luongo 20 Wins (41 Dec.)
.709 Save Percentage .710 Save Percentage

Should the game come down to the tie-breaker (after a 10-minute overtime, five minutes more than the NHL uses during the regular season), the goaltenders have almost the same save percentage but not nearly the same results.

Miller is third on the all-time list with 28 wins in 47 decisions. His .709 save percentage is 13 th  among goaltenders who’ve been in 20 or more shootouts -- one spot behind Luongo. However, Luongo’s .710 save percentage hasn’t translated into nearly as much success; he has a 20-21 record.

Miller is 3-4 this season with a .621 save percentage; Luongo is 2-2 and .636. (The NHL average save percentage on shootouts this season is .681.)

Offensively, Crosby is among the NHL’s best in shootouts this season at 75 percent (6-for-8) and scored the winner against Switzerland on his second try. He’s tied for the NHL lead with three deciding goals. Toews, who leads the NHL with seven shootout goals (in 12 tries) also figures to get a chance, as he did against the Swiss. He’s the best Canadian career shooter at 54 percent (13-for-24).

The Americans have not had a shootout in the tournament. Three U.S. shooters -- Zach Parise, Jack Johnson and Patrick Kane -- have scored four times in shootouts this season. Parise is 4-for-8; Johnson 4-for-11 and Kane 4-for-13. Career-wise, the best American shooter is Joe Pavelski, who’s made exactly half of his 32 attempts.

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