U.S. features bolstered offense in Sochi
There was a lot written about the incredible depth the Americans possess in goal, but there also were a lot of reservations about the team's ability to stack up with the other superpowers up front. The general line of thinking was the United States possessed a lot of skilled players but few truly dynamic goal scorers.
Flash forward to Thursday, when the Americans face Slovakia in their opening game of the Olympic tournament at Shayba Arena (7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN). Several forwards on the U.S. roster are having breakout offensive campaigns in the 2013-14 NHL season.
Concerns about whether or not the United States had enough offensive talent to compete with Canada, Russia and Sweden may have been oversold.
"For sure I think there is more [offense] here. I think there is even more than we might have expected at the summer camp," Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane told NHL.com. "You look at guys like [Joe] Pavelski, he's been on fire and hopefully that continues throughout the tournament. [James] van Riemsdyk has had a great season. Obviously Phil [Kessel] is having a great season. As an offensive player you watch those guys and almost feel like you have to keep up with them because you're American and you're going to be playing with them. It's been fun to keep in touch with these guys and see all of the success that they've had."
Four years ago the Americans embraced a blue-collar mentality and it suited them well en route to a silver medal. Coach Dan Bylsma is preaching some of the same principles but there is more skill up front on the 2014 team and the offensive numbers in the NHL this season back that up.
There are four Americans among the top 11 in goals, led by Kessel's 31 for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 2010 U.S. Olympic team had four players who completed the 2009-10 season with 26 or more goals. The 2014 team has four players (Kessel, Pavelski, Kane and Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty) who already have at least 26 goals at the Olympic break. Check out the accompanying table: There are nine Americans in Sochi who are on pace for 27 goals or more this season.
"We have a lot of depth on this team and a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net, a lot of quality players," van Riemsdyk said. "It is a matter of embracing the role the coaches put you in and executing that to the best of your ability."
There are six players who skated at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for the United States currently on pace to score more goals than they did that season, including three who already have. Captain Zach Parise was the Americans' top sniper in the NHL four years ago, but he's missed time with injury this season.
He had no problems taking a subtle jab at anyone who thinks the United States doesn't have enough firepower to win this tournament when the Americans formally met with the media Tuesday inside the Main Press Center, intimating the team is full of good leaders and Kane is their (only) skill player.
"I disagree with Zach a little bit, not everybody has no skill and Patrick is the only guy with skill on our team," Bylsma said. "At the Olympic Games or the Olympic tournament you are not looking for five 40-goal scorers on your team; you are looking for one game and one goal, not a 40- or 50-goal scorer on your roster. If you look at our roster we have players that can score that goal. It's about winning one game, not about scoring 50 goals or hitting a scoring title or having players that can do that.
"It's not an all-star game or tournament that you are in. I think we have scoring throughout our team. You look at Max Pacioretty on our team. He's a guy that has 26 goals, I believe, this year in the [NHL]. We have guys that can score that goal."
Offense has been a problem for the Americans when they travel abroad in this tournament. The United States scored 16 goals in six games at the 2006 Turin Olympics and finished in eighth place, including 2-1 losses to Slovakia and Sweden.
At the 1998 Nagano Olympics the United States scored nine goals in four games and finished sixth.
"The big ice is different," Kane said. "I was fortunate enough to play in Switzerland during the [2012-13] lockout and you realize that there are situations where you don't have to just shoot the puck or make a pass as quick. You have more time because of the ice and you can move in a little bit more to make that shot.
"The Europeans play a different style of defense where it is more man-on-man instead of zone and sometimes it is tough to generate chances because every guy is on someone. There's really no holes in the defense unless you beat your guy to the net. I think we have a lot of players on this team that can do that, that can break down defenses and create scoring chances."