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Power-play struggles concern Americans

by Shawn P. Roarke
VANCOUVER -- Team USA is more than a little concerned that a power outage could turn out the lights on their dreams for an Olympic medal.

After two games in Group A play -- wins against Switzerland and Norway -- the Americans have enjoyed little sustained success with the man advantage.

In Thursday's 6-1 win against the Norwegians, defenseman Brian Rafalski scored a late power-play goal on a set play off a faceoff. But the Americans struggled to gain attacking-zone possession on the four other power-play opportunities in the game. In fact, they even gave up a shorthanded goal, Norway's first goal of the tournament.

On Tuesday against Switzerland, Ryan Malone, part of the second power-play unit, scored on the Americans' third man advantage of the game. The first two power plays were ineffective, and the top power-play unit of Pat Kane, Zach Parise and Paul Statsny has struggled to find chemistry in any of their eight power-play shifts.

In the win against Norway, that threesome did not even manage a shot with the man advantage and were on the ice when Marius Holtet scored a shorthanded goal, off a turnover, in the second period to make it a 3-1 game.

"It's something we can work on," Kane told "It's something that you have to work at with the different units. It's tough. Especially with these teams, you definitely want to score on the power play and take advantage of the opportunities. But, hopefully we can get it going soon in practice.

The Americans have opted not to practice on Friday in an attempt to recharge their mental batteries as much as anything else, But come Saturday, a good portion of practice will be spent on man-advantage tactics as the Americans prepare for a winner-take-all showdown Sunday against the Canadians in Group A play.

"We'll have a good practice on Saturday and try to sort some of these things out," coach Ron Wilson said after the win against Norway. "We've got a couple of breakouts that we might need to work a little bit. There (are) some timing issues with guys from different teams. In theory, everything should work just by watching it on video, but we have to work on our timing."

But it is more than just timing issues in gaining the zone that are plaguing the Americans.

They are constantly looking for the pretty pass or the one-on-one move with a high degree of difficulty instead of getting pucks at the net and looking to press the numbers' advantage around the opponent's crease.

"Everyone knows what the job needs to be out there, and that's throwing pucks on net and getting some traffic in front," said Malone, who scored his power-play goal against Switzerland by crashing the crease and swatting in a rebound.

Why wouldn't a proven formula attract more followers on the American team?

"They want to try to put a little whip cream on top and that doesn't always work," is how Wilson put it after Thursday's game.

So how can the Americas find a more fluent power play? Wilson believes he has the answers and plans to hammer his points home during Saturday's training session.

"We have to have our point men moving a little bit quicker and trusting each other," he said. "I'd like to see our points establish a shot early in the power play. We're over-passing it and trying to beat people one-on-one. It doesn't matter who you are playing, it is not going to work."  

The players, for their part, know they have to listen. They have outscored their opponents 9-2 in the first two games, but Switzerland and Norway are not in the same league as the Canadians -- and the Americans are keenly aware of that fact. They know an opportunistic power play could well be the difference in Sunday's game.

"We've still got a lot of improvement to do," Parise acknowledged, talking as much about the team's overall game as its power-play functionality. "We've only been together a few days. But we’re feeling more comfortable every day. I think the jitters are all gone from everyone playing in their first Olympics. And we're going to progress every day.

"Come Sunday, everybody will be ready. It's a big game. Every game from here out is a big game."

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