Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Chicago Blackhawks [Print without images]

Monday, February 22, 2010
Pressure got to Canada

By Jesse Rogers

Ryan Miller
Team USA goalie Ryan Miller stopped 42 shots on Sunday night against Canada.

The amazing win by the U.S. team over Canada has created a hockey buzz we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s nice hearing from people who are jumping on the Olympics or even the Blackhawksbandwagon after Sunday’s win. Just think if they faceoff again for a medal. Close the borders!

So how did the Americans pull off the upset on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of another little, winning, underdog team?

First of all, it’s one game and not even one game for all the marbles. It’s not like the U.S team was made up of a bunch of amateurs from college. They are all in the NHL, which makes this an upset but not as historic as you might think.

It actually reminded me of a losing Blackhawks game. Where have we seen a team outshoot its opponent 45-22 and lose? I blogged right after the game that Marty Brodeur had a Cristobal Huet-type game. He stopped 18 of 22 shots. The other guy: 42 of 45. But there was more to it than just one goaltender outplaying another. How the game played out was very important.

The early goal lifted the U.S., no doubt about it, but the game was far from over. Like the Hawks often do, the Canadians put offensive zone pressure on throughout the opening period. Long shifts were spent in the attacking zone but by the end of 20 minutes, Canada still trailed 2-1. This was key. Shots on goal? Nineteen to 6 in favor of the Canadians. The extended pressure amounted to nothing, but it’s the sort of thing that should pay off later, if the attacking team continues its dominance.

This is where the pressure started to get to Canada. Nothing was getting by Ryan Miller so shots were being passed up for a potentially prettier play. Mike Babcock shortened his bench again and moved people around. Instead of getting some life, the game evened out and propelled U.S. confidence further. Shots on goal in the second: 13 to 12 in favor of the American team.

The third period was mostly about hanging on, and the U.S. did just that, thanks to Miller. The mistakes came earlier. I don’t know what Babcock said to his team in the first intermission but it should have sounded like, “Don’t change a thing. We’ll get to him.”

It never happened.

This game basically reminded me of the Hawks-Sharks game on Dec. 22. The Hawks outshot San Jose 47-14, but the Sharks took advantage of their limited opportunities to win the game 3-2. The only difference is, you could practically see the confidence in the U.S. team rise on Sunday, as the game went along.

One tangible analysis of the Canadian team is their defense might be overrated a tad. Duncan Keith has probably been the most consistent player. The defense has no goals and 10 assists in the three games, but six of those helpers came in the 8-0 shutout of Norway. They just haven’t been a dominant factor on either end of the ice.

Playing time tells the story, and in the biggest game in recent Canadian history, 20-year-old Drew Doughty played more than Chris Pronger, Dan Boyle, Scott Niedermayer, Brent Seabrook, and Shea Weber. Nothing against the kid -- he’s good -- but if Babcock is turning to him at the most crucial of times, maybe those potential Hall of Famers aren’t as good as most thought. It’s just not a scary defense by any definition.

Add one more extremely obvious thought: Though the Canadian team is stacked with talent, only five at a time can be on the ice. It sounds silly, but I believe plenty of people got caught up in all the big names this team has, but when five are on the ice against any American five, are they that much better?

Apparently not.

Ron Wilson has coached magnificently so far. He has the easier job in the motivation department, that’s for sure. The underdog role is an easy one to play up. When nothing less than gold is tolerable, it can be harder than coaching a less talented team.

That’s what Babcock faces. Maybe the loss will loosen up the Canadian team, and maybe the win will put the Americans in the role Canada had in the first week: as the hunted. Whatever happens, week two could be even better.