Kovacevic: For U.S., a self-inflicted step back
TribLIVE Sports Videos
SOCHI, Russia — Ryan Kesler had the No. 6 sized up, dead to rights. The American forward was locked and loaded against the Canadian defenseman, Shea Weber, and it would take no more than a split-second before Weber would be plastered against the plexiglass.
That's what came next. Couldn't believe it, but there it was.
Kesler, one of the fiercest competitors on a U.S. roster stacked with the stuff, came to a full-on, stop-on-a-dime skate stop. Then backtracked. Then wiggled his stick and waited to see what Weber would do.
Canada 1, United States 0.
Don't fault the national team for losing.
Fault them for not competing.
Fault them for not sticking by the same approach that had them in that Olympic semifinal Friday night at Bolshoy Ice Dome, that had observers casually describing them as gold-medal favorites, that had a nation back home shut down on the lunch hour to watch.
Fault them for watching just like everyone else.
“Terrible,” Ryan Suter called it. “We sat back. We were passive.”
“We talked about pushing it. We did,” Brooks Orpik said. “We didn't want to sit back, but …”
“They probably played the way we wanted to,” Patrick Kane said. “That's what hurts.”
That's what should hurt.
Let's stop here a moment: Toques off to the Canadians. Not at all beaten down by the relentless and often ridiculous criticism back home, not demoralized by having a half-dozen forwards still without a goal — Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz among them — they played brilliant defense. And on the few leaks, Carey Price smothered pucks like a sponge.
The Canadians were smarter, faster, better. And they didn't abandon their identity.
The U.S. roster, as has been exhaustively documented during the exhilarating 4-0 run to get this far, was built to be “the toughest team to play against” in this tournament. It was built to be “in your face.” It was built to be “abrasive.”
Not my words. Those were Dan Bylsma's, repeated several times since arriving.
What happened to all that?
The most obvious finger gets pointed at Bylsma going with that passive 1-2-2 system — Kesler was the “1” in that sequence, to give you some idea of how passive — that flies in the face of everything he and Ray Shero and David Poile and all the team's architects believed when finding their 25 guys.
The Americans used the 1-2-2 at other points of the tournament, too, to protect the many quick leads they got. Canada used it in this game, as well. The Finns and victorious Swedes in the earlier semifinal used the even more conservative 1-4. Heck, the Swiss and Latvians might as well have crammed six bodies in the crease. The bigger international ice, combined with Slovakia's early collapse while trying to go all-attack, had coaches running scared.
Yet the American 1-2-2 on this night stands out. Because they didn't have the lead. And they were facing an opponent with an immobile defense that could have been worn down with a heavy forecheck. And, to repeat, because they were built for exactly that.
I asked Bylsma why the team never had that abrasive edge or that forecheck, and his initial reply was that the game was “the fastest I'd ever seen.” Mike Babcock, his counterpart, agreed it was “really fast.” That's a fair point to raise. You can't hit what you can't catch, as youth hockey coaches teach. The Americans spent much of the time chasing.
“We didn't generate that speed we needed,” Bylsma continued. “And we didn't take that opportunity to maybe get pucks into areas where we could go to work and be that type of team. I thought our guys battled extremely hard in this game. Guys laid it on the line. Our goaltender was our best player.”
That's Jonathan Quick, and he was indeed sharp with 36 saves.
“We just weren't able to turn that back the other way and get forward with our game,” Bylsma said.
Maybe if they hadn't been skating backward so much, that wouldn't have been a problem.
Bylsma had a good tournament, and I'm not taking that away. Nor am I, as I'm sure many are back in Pittsburgh, comparing it to anything related to the Penguins. These are the Olympics. Different team. Different game. But adjustments are mandatory anytime the competition level rises, and that wasn't made here.
Also, let's not let everyone else off. When powerful voices such as Suter and David Backes question effort in a game this big — “I don't think we laid it all on the line,” Backes said — something's amiss. Maybe the passive style sucked away their energy. Maybe Canada's speed. Maybe both. It's unconscionable in any case.
This game, this loss, won't resonate with me. I'll forget that Jamie Benn scored the only goal if it's asked someday as trivia. I might even forget who takes bronze Saturday between the U.S. and Finland.
But I won't soon forget seeing an American program that's taken such great strides willingly take a step back.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins finally break through, defeat Devils at Prudential Center
- UPMC researcher who died of cyanide poisoning committed suicide
- Rooney says Pittsburgh is ‘good place’ for next northern Super Bowl
- Sting highlights demand for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon
- HOF finalist Bettis ‘behind everything’ in 2005 Super Bowl run
- Roundup: Alpha Natural Resources to idle coal mines; Alcoa targets growing demand for aluminium wheels; more
- LaBar: WWE not backing down from controversy
- New CEO eager to revitalize Pittsburgh International Airport
- Penguins notebook: Bennett a healthy scratch
- Trib 30 stocks drop to four-month low
- Dungy, Greene represent more Steelers ties in hall of fame voting