The United States has a long history of success in international hockey, but of late has fallen on some hard times. The team has made it to the semifinals just twice in the last 7 Olympic Games and came away with only one medal, the silver they won at home in Salt Lake City. That international drought has been mirrored at the world championships, where Team U.S.A. has one bronze medal to show for the last 12 events. However, a world junior championship in 2010 signals a bright future for American hockey, and the team will turn to a new generation of players to carry the nationís hopes in Vancouver.
Appearances (including 2010):
Total Appearances: 21
This yearís version of Team U.S.A. reflects the philosophy of GM Brian Burke. Burkeís M.O. is to identify a particular team style and then go out and get players to fill his desired roles. That was the same philosophy he used in putting together the 2010 U.S. team. This is no all-star team of American talent, with scorers like Mike Knuble, Tim Connolly, Jason Pominville, Brian Gionta, T.J. Oshie and Kyle Okposo left to watch the Games on TV. Burke also signalled a shift towards a younger group of players, leaving off long-time U.S.A. veterans such as Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin and Brian Rolston.
There is a lot to like about Burkeís team. He has assembled a group of tough, two-way forwards that will be hard to play against, and has last yearís Vezina winner and this yearís Vezina front-runner manning the crease. What leaves the Americans a cut below the top three teams is a lack of elite talent throughout the roster and depth problems on the blue line.
GVT: Total GVT
Ryan Miller 13.9
Tim Thomas 12.1
Jonathan Quick 4.9
The United States have the top-ranked goaltending based on GVT. Tim Thomas is a good goaltender, but it is expected that Ryan Miller will be the clear #1 in Vancouver. Miller has struggled in his last few starts, but if he plays like he has for most of this season the Americans will have a goaltending advantage over their opponents.
However, this advantage is likely to be narrow considering that all of the other contending teams also have top goalies, and any of them are capable of getting hot and matching Miller. The U.S. will most likely need Miller to outplay his counterparts to end up with a medal.
OGVT: Offensive GVT
DGVT: Defensive GVT
GVT: Total GVT
Defenseman OGVT DGVT GVT
Brian Rafalski 7.9 7.3 15.2
Ryan Suter 4.2 5.4 9.6
Brooks Orpik 1.4 4.0 5.4
Tim Gleason 0.5 4.2 4.7
Erik Johnson 1.4 2.0 3.4
Jack Johnson 1.8 1.3 3.2
Ryan Whitney 1.3 1.9 3.2
Brian Rafalski is the teamís only veteran defenseman on the international scene. The team will rely heavily on him to provide offence from the back end, and he will have to step up his game without the benefit of playing beside his regular partner Niklas Lidstrom in Detroit. Rafalski may struggle a bit to handle the size and speed of Olympic-calibre forwards at even strength, and it is probable that Ryan Suter will play the key role of shutdown defenseman. Brooks Orpik and Tim Gleason will also add a solid defensive presence.
Losing Paul Martin to injury was a big loss for this team as the Americans already have the weakest #3-7 defensemen of any of the medal contenders. According to Behind the Netís quality of competition statistics, none of Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson or Ryan Whitney have played against the other teamís best players this season. Despite that, they all have mediocre defensive numbers. Suter and Gleason are also the only American defensemen who have been relied upon by their coaches to take more defensive zone faceoffs than offensive zone faceoffs this year. Coach Ron Wilson will have to do his best to shelter his bottom pairings, but thatís a difficult proposition against teams like Russia or Canada that have three elite scoring lines.
The U.S. blue line will have to hold up against the waves of skill that they'll face in Vancouver. If not, then even Millerís heroics probably wonít be enough to save them.
OGVT: Offensive GVT
DGVT: Defensive GVT
GVT: Total GVT
Forwards OGVT DGVT GVT
Zach Parise 12.7 4.9 17.6
Patrick Kane 9.5 2.4 11.9
Jamie Langenbrunner 7.2 4.0 11.2
Bobby Ryan 8.8 2.4 11.2
Phil Kessel 8.5 2,4 10.8
Ryan Kesler 6.7 2.7 9.3
Joe Pavelski 6.0 2.9 8.8
David Backes 4.8 3.0 7.8
Ryan Malone 4.3 2.2 6.6
Dustin Brown 3.6 2.4 6.0
Chris Drury 2.6 3.3 5.9
Paul Stastny 3.6 2.1 5.7
Up front, Zach Parise is the teamís offensive leader and go-to scorer. The rest of the American forwards are solid, but they lack further world-class talent. For example, Patrick Kane is the second ranked American forward in GVT, yet would rank as the 6th best forward on Russia and the 7th best on Canada or Sweden. In Kane, Bobby Ryan and Phil Kessel the Americans do have a talented trio of young snipers that will be counted on to take some of the offensive load off of Parise.
Beyond that, Burkeís team is hoping to make up for their lack of top-end skill through grit and strong two-way play. The American forwards combine for a 38.2 DGVT rating, ranking them as the second best group of defensive forwards behind only Sweden. Ryan Kesler and team captain Jamie Langenbrunner are two of the leagueís top checking forwards, and Dustin Brown and David Backes bring two-way play as well as a lot of sandpaper and will seek to get under the opposing teamís skin.
The Americans wonít be able to run and gun with the tournament heavyweights, so they will try to play a cohesive team game to negate the other teamsí skill advantage. With a young roster they will also try to utilize their energy and team speed. A key success factor will be secondary scoring; if the team struggles to generate offense behind Parise they could be facing a short tournament.
The United States is a dark horse. In terms of talent they are a cut below Canada, Russia and Sweden, but if they play as a unit and get outstanding goaltending they are a candidate to muscle their way into top three finish. Itís been 30 years since Lake Placid, and while an American gold medal wouldnít exactly be quite as unexpected as it was then, it still would be a minor miracle for this edition of Team USA to come out on top. If that script does play out, expect Ryan Miller to fill the Jim Craig role as the goalie who was largely responsible for backstopping the team to an upset victory. In all likelihood, however, the Americans will simply be outgunned when they run into one of Russia, Canada or Sweden in the medal round.
Schedule: Switzerland, February 16 at 12:00 PM (PST); Norway, February 18 at 12:00 PM (PST); Canada, February 21 at 4:45 PM (PST). Secondary round (except for byes) for all teams on February 23.
Philip Myrland is an author of Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey website Brodeur Is A Fraud. You can contact him at BrodeurIsAFraud@Inbox.com.
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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