The United States wraps up group play on Sunday with a game against a surprisingly competitive Slovenia team coming off of its first ever Olympic win.
United States vs. Slovenia (Group A)
Game time: 7:30 a.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. Sochi time
TV: NBCSN (USA)
Streaming: NBCOlympics.com (USA), Olympics.CBC.ca (Canada)
On paper this should be a mismatch.
The United States is emerging as a gold-medal favorite and has one of the deepest rosters in the tournament. Slovenia has just two players with NHL experience (and only one currently in the NHL) and is playing in just its third-ever Olympic Games.
But every game Slovenia has played in the men's Olympic hockey tournament was a mismatch on paper, and it hasn't exactly worked out that way on the ice.
After keeping it close against Russia in its Group A opener (also its first-ever game in Olympic competition) Slovenia came out on Saturday and absolutely throttled an increasingly disappointing Slovakia team and was 17 seconds away from recording a shutout for its first ever Olympic win. Because of it, Slovenia actually enters Sunday's game against the United States with an outside to actually win the group if it can beat the United States in regulation and if Russia loses to Slovakia.
Crazy thought, right? Perhaps, but it was also probably crazy to think that Slovenia would enter this game with a 1-1 record and only a minus-one goal differential.
The United States comes in following an incredible 3-2 shootout win over Russia on Saturday that was highlighted by T.J. Oshie's spectacular performance in the shootout, where he scored four goals in the tiebreaker after coach Dan Bylsma made the decision to ride with him in rounds four through eight. It was the type of performance and the type of stage that can turn an unknown player among casual fans into a household name.
As Russia and Slovakia have already found out, this is the type of game that can be dangerous for Team USA.
Slovenia has absolutely nothing to lose, plays an aggressive style of hockey and is pretty much playing with house money at this point. There is no sitting back and trapping going on here, and they're not afraid to take some chances.
Slovenia is led by its lone NHL player, Los Angeles Kings superstar Anze Kopitar, who has been one of the best players in the tournament through two games. He's only factored into two goals at this point -- including scoring on an incredible individual effort in the third period on Saturday to give Slovenia a 3-0 lead -- but he has played 48 of Slovenia's 120 minutes so far and has constantly been at the center of most of their chances and shots. Obviously, Kopitar is going to be the one guy that Team USA is going to have to focus on.
The United States will be making one significant lineup change on Sunday, giving starting goalie Jonathan Quick the day off after posting back-to-back wins over the first two games. In his place will be 2010 Olympic MVP Ryan Miller.
Derek Stepan will also be in the lineup in place of Max Pacioretty. The defense remains the same as it was for the first two games.
Slovenia will be without forward Sabahudin Kovacevic as he was suspended for a hit on Slovakia's Tomas Kopecky on Saturday.
With a win the United States will clinch the top spot in Group A and earn a bye all the way into the quarterfinal round.