Today's soundtrack: Here's Where The Story Ends by The Sundays -- Remember the NHL? As the Olympic story ends, the NHL story resumes with the trade deadline right around the corner. By the time members of Team Canada and Team USA fly home, there might even be new guys on their rosters. For now, let's relish in what will hopefully be a great game.
Canada at USA, 3 PM EST (NBC, CTV)
Update: Here is SBN's game thread.
Well, no one expected this match-up here, not even the guys planning the Americans' flights. I mentioned on Twitter Friday night that I felt both teams had some obvious weaknesses, and I still believe that. They're issues that both teams can overcome if they play their A-games, but they're also reasons why we might get a lop-sided affair.
It's important to note that the Finland and Russia results of the past few days were equal parts shooting-themselves-in-the-head as they were solid, disciplined performances by the Americans and Canadians, respectively. Had either the Finns or the Russians actually showed up and played the way they were capable of, things might have been different. That's a critical thing to factor in when it comes to worrying about either team (or their fans) getting overconfident.
What are these weaknesses? For Canada, Roberto Luongo still hasn't been tested too hard yet. However, the goals he has let in haven't always been the best shots, though he's had his share of good saves too. Canada's defense has been guilty of standing around on multiple occasions -- in the first game against the Americans, in the Swiss game, and in the last ten minutes of the Slovakia game. There's always an ebb and flow to each game, but the Canadian defense must curb any momentum from the opposition by standing their ground, not giving way to the physical down-low play that has been their Achilles' Heel.
For the Americans, the offensive outburst against the Finns should be seen as an anomaly, not the norm. It's very important that Patrick Kane got some of his swagger back, as he'll be key to driving the sometimes-dormant American offense. Ron Wilson has got these guys playing with speed and grit up front, and that's worked well for them; it creates ugly offensive chances, and they've capitalized on them. However, we've also seen teams be able to keep the Americans mostly on the perimeter when it comes to shots and scoring chances. If Team USA fails to keep those legs churning, then they'll be hard-pressed to get good zone time against a big, mobile Canadian defense.
In a way, each team's weakness almost plays into the other one. If the Americans fail to skate and hit hard, then they become a perimeter team. If they succeed at that formula, though, then they'll strike the Canadian defense where they've shown vulnerability. Otherwise, the game could quickly turn into a shooting gallery for the Canadians.
The x-factor, of course, is Ryan Miller, who has probably been the steadiest of all the Olympic goalies. Is he ready to write his way into the Olympic history books or is he due for a letdown?
Regardless of the winner, I hope both teams show up and really bring it. This tournament has had its fantastic games and its disappointing performances, but it'd be really great if they could showcase the absolute best when it comes to skill, speed, and heart. 8 million Americans tuned into the first Canada-USA match-up, and 6 million watched the quarterfinals and semifinals even during the workday. The stage is set for what could be the most watched hockey game in North American history, so let's give it a good skate out there.