Now that the 25-man United States roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics has been chosen and subsequently analyzed by media members and fans, the attention now turns to line combinations, defense pairings, roles within the team and the depth chart in net.
United States coach Dan Bylsma said Friday in a conference call that type of analysis began for him long ago and will continue in earnest until the team arrives in Russia.
“That was part of the process in looking at the team and talking about strengths and weaknesses of the players, was what combinations you might have, special teams combinations, penalty kill, power play and the possible line combinations,” Bylsma said. “We looked a little bit at the 2010 team and what they did in that tournament and some arranging and re-arranging of the lines, what worked and what was most effective. That was something we did look at. At the same time, in a tournament situation, we looked at contingency plans in the case of an injury or performance, what you might be able to go to or what combinations we might go to. Yes, it’s been looked at and yes, you continue to play with that now that you see the 25 guys on the roster.”
Bylsma and U.S. general manager David Poile emphasized again Friday the key points in the decision-making when it came to selecting the roster. Speed, skating ability and versatility were of paramount importance.
Track record trumped the 2013-14 season in some instances. When Bylsma provided input to Poile and his management team, he had an identity for the American team in mind.
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“When looking at the team we started off by what kind of team we wanted to be and what kind of team we thought we could be,” Bylsma said. “Skating and speed [were] at a premium. We really thought that intelligence and smart as a group [would be a strength], and we also thought this group of players and this team could be great defensively and great a team as there is in the tournament in shutting [down] and playing defensively.
“I think, given the big ice and given the way we want to play, I think we’ve really picked a great team.”
The size of the ice surface will continue to be a dominant theme for the United States and Canada as the games approach. The two North American powers have not succeeded with NHL players at the tournaments staged in Nagano, Japan, and Turin, Italy.
Logistics play into that, but so does the bigger international rink, which is 15 feet wider than an NHL ice sheet.
“I think there are certain aspects of the big ice that we’ve tried to be aware of,” Bylsma said. “We’ve tried to look at as much international hockey that we could have that’s been played in the past two or three years to see those situations. Certainly it has an effect in the neutral zone and playing against the type of teams and systems, that is a factor on the big ice.
“We’re playing Slovakia and then the Russians and Slovenia. The way they play, and over on the big ice, is different than the North American style of play. It is different defensive systems. We’ve looked at that. It’s neutral zone; transitioning from defense to offense in that area is different than the North American game. Not to be overlooked is the offensive zone is different and the defensive zone is different. The size of the rink outside of the circles is where the difference is at. It makes a big difference on special teams as well. These are all things that we’ve taken into account with our team and our players.”
One of the issues for the Americans when this tournament is abroad has been finding enough offense. The United States has scored 25 goals in 10 Olympic games in the Eastern Hemisphere. In tournaments that featured the best offensive talent in the world, that wasn’t enough.
The Americans have more offensive depth on the 2014 roster than the one from four years ago that came within a goal of winning the gold medal, but the omissions of some offensive-minded players has led to questions about where the goals will come from in Sochi.
The U.S. team has eight of the top 32 goal scorers in the NHL in 2013-14 on it, but Bobby Ryan, Jason Pominville and Kyle Okposo, all of whom also are in the top 32, are not on the roster.
“When you look at the depth and scoring potential through our lineup, with guys willing to play roles on special teams or with energy, the defensive corps with lots of speed and mobility, scoring goals shouldn’t be the issue,” St. Louis Blues captain David Backes said.
Zach Parise, like Backes one of 13 returning players from the group that went to Vancouver, said there are lessons from four years ago to be drawn upon.
“I think what we really excelled [in Vancouver] at was scoring by committee,” Parise said. “You kind of got the sense that a different line was contributing at different times and that’s how good teams win. We were fortunate enough to have that, getting big goals at big times from different players.
“Looking at the  team, I think that is going to be pretty similar. I think one of the most important things from Vancouver was we had a lot of guys where, everyone who is going to be on the team plays on the power play with their regular teams but we had guys who went there and were fully committed. They weren’t getting power-play time but they were thriving with just penalty killing. I think that’s what was special with that team, was guys were really taking pride in their roles even if that was different from their club teams.”