The United States hockey drive for gold got off to a slow start at the Olympics today but rolled to an easy victory over the disciplined Swiss, 3-1.
The first period was dominated by defensive hockey from Switzerland until a late period goal by Bobby Ryan finally broke the tie. David Backes scored an end-to-end highlight reel goal in the second period to seemingly break open the game. Backes, the young power forward playing for St. Louis, has had a poor NHL season along with the rest of the Blues but looks to have come alive for the Olympics. After picking up a rebound in front of his own net, Backes powered down the left side, cut in front of the Swiss goal, and stuffed the puck in behind Jonas Hiller.
The Swiss immediately got into penalty trouble, allowing Ryan Malone to shoot in a point shot rebound on the power play to make it 3-0 midway through the second period. The Swiss team mounted little offense during the game that looked very much like the first game in a rushed Olympic tournament. Mark Streit appeared to be the most dangerous player wearing the little red cross and he's a defenseman.
In the third period the US took a few penalties and the Swiss finally made them pay on a weak pass in front by Roman Wick that US goalie Ryan Miller misplayed and deflected into his own net. Miller never looked sharp throughout the game, going to his knees early and fighting the puck all game. It will be interesting to see if Team USA taps Tim Thomas for the game against Norway as a solid performance in that game could create a goaltending controversy for the rest of the tournament.
Neither team looked terribly organized in this game that lacked any real emotion until late into the third period with the Swiss only down by two goals. The skill level of the individual American players clearly outclassed Europe's eternally neutral country and carried the day. The US team has a day off before they meet Norway on Thursday for another tune-up game before the big match against Canada this Sunday. The US needs to beat Norway to ensure the Sunday game against arch-rival Canada will be for a bye into the quarterfinals. However the preliminary games mean very little as all teams will advance into the sudden death tournament regardless.
The Swiss have a solid base to build on in this tournament. They measured up decently against the young and talented US team and should do well against Norway. They will likely face a tough challenge in the qualification sudden death round but with a disciplined team and solid goaltending they may get into the quarterfinals.
I give the three stars to:
*** Ryan Callahan, USA – looked shifty and passed well all game.
** Jonas Hiller, Switzerland – Solid in net facing some very talented US forwards.
* David Backes, USA – Beautiful end to end goal that obviously deflated the Swiss