Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Senior Writer
/ Pittsburgh Penguins
VANCOUVER -- The American players say they have little idea of how their forward lines will be drawn for Sunday's Group A finale against Canada (7:45 p.m. ET, CTV, MSNBC). But their coach seems settled on a new-look team.
After struggling to score goals against the minnows of their group -- Switzerland and Norway -- in the first 114 minutes of group play, Team USA coach Ron Wilson jumbled his lines in the final six minutes of Thursday's 6-1 win against Switzerland. The result of the shakeup, which included taking Patrick Kane off the top line, was 3 goals in the final six minutes against the Norwegians.
American captain Jamie Langenbrunner took shifts on both the third and fourth lines for most of the game before being moved up to the first line with New Jersey Devils teammate Zach Parise and Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny. Kane, meanwhile, joined Ryan Kesler and Bobby Ryan on a completely revamped second line.
"Who knows what we'll do by Sunday, though," Langenbrunner told NHL.com
Actually, it seems Wilson has a pretty good idea of how he will deploy his forwards for the coming battle against the Canadians.
Out of the gate Sunday, he plans to stick with the lines that finished Thursday's game so convincingly, abandoning his pre-conceived notions about what would be the best alignment for his team in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Originally, Wilson thought putting together his three most offensively gifted players -- Parise, Kane and Stastny -- would be the best way to generate offense. But Kane could not find a comfort level with his linemates, who play a far different style than the Chicago Blackhawks winger.
"Patrick is a winger, but he is really a center playing wing," Wilson said. "Paul Statsny needs to touch the puck a little bit more and also Zach. You're trying to create chemistry and sometimes its not there.
"It wasn't Patrick Kane's fault. He was playing Patrick Kane hockey. The difference between here and Chicago is he has two great offensive defensemen that can jump into the play all the time. We don't have that kind of dynamic defenseman to play with him. I think he would be better suited right now, from what I can see, for sure with Ryan Kesler, who is skating really well and, maybe, Bobby Ryan on the other side. A little creativity and someone suited to a two-way game, which is Ryan's strength."
Wilson also liked what he saw once Parise was paired with Langenbrunner. At that point, Parise became a different, more confident player and the new line finished the game with several strong shifts.
The coach, however, did admit that he was concerned with taking Langenbrunner off the checking line, which originally featured Kesler and Dustin Brown.
But the emergence of David Backes as a physical force in the first two games of the tournament provided Wilson and the coaching staff with a previously unforeseen option.
Now, Wilson envisions Backes playing a hybrid third-line role -- likely with Joe Pavelski and either Ryan Malone or Dustin Brown -- to get in deep on the forecheck and force the opposition's scoring line to spend a portion, at least, of each shift trying to go the length of the ice against the menacing presence of two big, punishing wingers.
Plus, Wilson still has a classic shut-down fourth line, featuring the team's two top penalty killers -- Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan, both of the New York Rangers -- at his disposal.