On Feb. 7, the highly anticipated matchup between Team USA and Team Canada in the Olympic tournament came in with a bang. Both teams went into the match undefeated with a 3-0 record. It was the final game of the preliminary round, which is used to determine groupings for the rest of the tournament. The final horn ended with a 4-2 Canada win. With the win, Canada is the first seed in Group A, while America is the second seed in Group A. The game was spirited, heated, excellent, fun, and all of the above. Although it was considered a “dress rehearsal” for a medal game, it came will important storylines for these two teams. Here are some takeaways from the game.
Special Teams Were a Difference Maker
It was apparent that special teams on either side were going to greatly affect the outcome of the game.
Canada has the best power play in the tournament, with a 46.15% success rate. The United States has the fourth-best power play with a 21.05% success rate. The United States got off to a wonderful start in the first period. They peppered Canada early on with shots and had a near-goal that ricocheted off of the goal post. That momentum got squashed when the USA’s Caroline Harvey took a cross-checking penalty seven minutes into the game. USA’s penalty kill is ranked last in the tournament with a 57.14% success rate. Therefore, any penalties taken by the United States seemed like a bad omen. Canada’s forward, Brianne Jenner, converted to take an early 1-0 lead. Two minutes after Canada’s power-play goal, Canada’s Laura Stacey took a hooking penalty, which gave the United States a good opportunity to neutralize the game, but they could not convert.
The United States’ power play was problematic, not only because they were unable to get into a rhythm, but they also gave up short-handed chances for Canada. The nail in the coffin came in the second period when Canada was leading 3-2. The United States was on the power play and gave up a breakaway chance for Canada’s captain Marie-Philip Poulin. United States’ Cayla Barnes took a hooking penalty, which resulted in a penalty shot. Poulin converted to extend Canada’s lead 4-2.
When it comes to Canada’s penalty kill, they have the second-best penalty kill in the tournament with a 91.30% success rate. That comes up huge for them because they are also the second-most penalized team in the tournament. It showed because they took six penalties, compared to the USA’s two. However, the United States only converted on one of its six power plays. Canada’s Blayre Turnbull took a tripping penalty with three minutes left in the game, with Canada leading 4-2. The United States pulled the goalie to play six-on-four for the rest of the game. Canada’s penalty kill had the answer, yet again, and the USA could not convert. That stung because there is no greater opportunity to score than playing with two extra players.
USA Unable to Hold Lead
Even though the United States gave up a power-play goal in the first period, they answered in the second period with a goal from Dani Cameranesi to tie the game 1-1. Canada’s Emily Clark took a penalty for boarding 30 seconds after the goal. The United States answered again with a power-play goal from Alex Carpenter to take a 2-1 lead. They weren’t able to savor the one-goal lead for long as Canada scored 26 seconds later to tie the game at 2-2. Two minutes after the second goal, Canada scored again with a goal from Jamie Lee Rattray to make it 3-2.
Lastly came Canada’s penalty shot three minutes after their third goal, which extended their lead 4-2. Between the two teams, there were five goals scored in eight minutes. The United States only holding a one-goal lead for less than a minute was a back-breaker. They played a solid game, but both teams play at such a fast pace that they can capitalize on one mistake in a matter of seconds. Canada was able to capitalize on quick mistakes by the United States in which they couldn’t respond. They couldn’t sustain momentum. They went from having a lead to giving up three unanswered goals. That is not going to cut it against a team like Canada.
USA Missed Opportunities
Besides some quick mistakes by the United States, they missed a lot of opportunities. They outshot Canada 16-5 in the first period, yet Canada came out of the period with a lead. They had prime chances with Canada’s turnovers in the first period, especially. From turnovers alone, they had scoring opportunities up the middle that either missed the net or was blocked. They also ran into some bad luck with pucks hitting the post. Canada’s goaltender, Ann-Renee Desbiens, was solid and stopped most of the high-danger chances.
The United States had their chances in the game. They ended up out-shooting Canada 53-27, but they couldn’t find the back of the net. It wasn’t their night with being able to finish their chances. They scored 18 goals in three games against the Russian Olympic Committee, Finland, and Switzerland going into the game. Therefore, it was a rare off-night for them. The bounces didn’t go their way.
USA Dominated, but Fell Short
At first glance, the score might have you believe that Canada dominated the game. However, the United States had Canada on its heels for most of the game. But in hockey, it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s about how you finish. Although the United States played a more complete game than Canada, their lapse in defensive breakdowns, special teams, and not finishing their chances is what did them in. Canada took advantage of their opportunities, while the USA did not. Both teams have areas where they can improve, but overall, both are lethal. They are each other’s best competition in the tournament, and the excitement doesn’t stop there. This won’t be the last time these two face each other, but until then, enjoy the ride with the excellent hockey they will continue to display on the world stage!
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.