Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 1 Thoughts

Admittedly I only saw about 2/3 of the U.S. game and none of the Canada game, as my son had a rare weeknight hockey game about 90 minutes away from Baltimore. But really the day went pretty much as expected.

United States vs. Switzerland
This was a perfect opening test for the U.S. A game they should win, but still a challenging matchup against a scrappy, physical team with a solid goaltender. The workmanlike win will give the U.S. confidence, but the challenges presented by the Swiss showed the Americans how much work they had to do. Ryan Miller made several difficult saves and looked sharp in net, although the goal allowed was clearly his fault. The U.S. defensemen move the puck well, but were a bit sloppy in their own end at times. American forwards must transition more quickly, make better decisions with the lead and back check harder. I like the line combinations, but continue to be amazed by the fact that once-talented Chris Drury has gone from a skill player to an energy guy. But, the team needed that way. The U.S. looked tired in the third and was not committed to the two-way game. That will hurt them against the better teams.

Canada vs. Norway
I'm relying on third-party reports here, but it sounds like Canada may have experienced some opening-night jitters and really looked disjointed in the first period. But once it started to click, the talent took over. Luongo was not really tested in goal, making 15 saves. As the tournament goes on the Canadians will get better and better working as a unit, but the pressure also will increase with each passing day. That's an interesting dynamic to follow.

Russia vs. Latvia
The Russians came out with a lot of energy and flash, which sometimes has been lacking with them in past opening-round games. Then, once they got comfortable, it seemed as though they fell into a pattern of toying with the overmatched Latvians. Nabakov seemed to lose concentration a bit in the third period, but he wasn't getting a ton of help. Russia's blue line corps is a concern for sure. The one thing that they have, however, is the full-time energy of Alex Ovechkin. I imagine that it's hard to take a shift off when your best player is out there going 100 mph all the time. That's an element the Russians have missed in past Olympics. If Ovechkin's effort can continue to challenge his teammates to focus and give their best, the Russian's will be tough to beat. I thought Fedorov looked more rested and energetic than in his recent NHL seasons, and he remains one of the most savvy players in the world.

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