By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) In a short single-elimination tournament like the Olympics, it’s tough to glean too much about a particular team. Before the tournament began, there were a few squads that had realistic chances to win the gold medal. Sports wagering site Bovada.lv pegged the Canadians as the clear favorite (2/1) to win the gold before the tourney began, and with good reason. Their depth can’t be matched by any other team in the tournament.
So why did Latvia (of all teams) seemingly take them to their limit? It wasn’t until Shea Weber broke the 1-1 tie late in the third that Mike Babcock’s team could finally breathe a sigh of relief. A brief glance at the final score would lead you to believe that the Canadians struggled, but they outshot the Latvians, 57-16. This doesn’t even include the dozens of blocked and missed shots the Canadians put toward the net. It’s safe to assume that Team Canada attempted close to 100 shots. If not for a heroic performance from their goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, the Latvians would have been laughed out of the building.
But that’s Latvia — so let’s take a look at Canada’s efforts against other more superior opponents. The Canadians outshot Finland, 27-15, in their 2-1 overtime win, while after a slow start, they managed a 38-20 shot advantage in their 3-1 win over Norway. They also beat Austria, 6-0, whom they outshot 46-23.
In fact, no team in the tournament has a higher shot differential (+94) than the Canadians. Russia is second with +53. Team USA? It has a +25. Oh, and Canada has only surrendered two goals the entire tournament.
Canada is dominating their opposition, regardless of what’s seen on the scoreboard.
So it’s hopeless for Team USA entering their Friday morning semifinal against the Canadians, right?
Not at all.
Luck plays a large role in hockey; it’s just a fact. Even the most militant number crunchers would agree. There’s a hockey metric called PDO, which basically measures puck luck. It’s the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage. Team USA’s PDO is a tournament-high 110.4. Canada is fourth at 103.7. The U.S. has been putting its shots past the goalies more efficiently than any team in the tournament. The Americans have scored 20 goals on 120 shots (16.7 percent). Conversely, Canada has scored 13 goals on 168 shots (7.7 percent).
Luck aside, the other great equalizer in hockey is the power play. At even strength, the US will struggle to hang with the Canadians. When power-play chances present themselves, they needs to capitalize. Getting an early lead would help their case as well. The Canadian players are hearing the criticisms, and the Latvia game didn’t do much to boost their confidence, despite the win. If the U.S. can get a goal or two early, you could see panic set in for Canada.
Team USA is inferior (on paper) to Canada in both forward and defensive depth. The one advantage the Americans might hold is in goal. While Carey Price has been very solid for Canada, Jonathan Quick has won a Stanley Cup and has played in more high-pressure games than his Canadian counterpart.
If Team USA is going to get past Canada, Quick will have to play a major role — and may even have to steal the game.
It’s a one-game series, and anything can happen. The Americans will have to be close to perfect to advance. They’ve yet to put together a full 60 minutes, but if they do against Canada, they have a strong shot at bringing home the gold medal.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.