The United States men’s hockey team has put itself in an early hole to start its 2018 Winter Olympic gold medal chase. On Wednesday, Team USA collapsed late in the third period to Slovenia after taking a two-goal lead into the period, resulting in a 3-2 overtime loss on the opening day of the tournament.
With an early loss in hand, the United States is already on its heels in the preliminary round. It’s not as bad off as the Russian team is after its shocker of a 3-2 loss to Slovakia just moments after the final horn sounded for Team USA, but it’s not the ideal result many wanted to see from the Americans.
We’ve only seen about 60 minutes and some change of this rag-tag American group cobbled together from aging veterans and burgeoning stars, but we’ve already gleaned a bit of information on how the team operates. Despite the upset, here are a few things we’ve learned about Team USA from its opening game against Slovenia.
Team USA wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck
While names like Brian Gionta, Mark Arcobello, and Chris Bourque don’t really spark fear into opposing players like an Auston Matthews or Shayne Gostisbehere would, Team USA came out firing in its opening game.
Through three periods, Team USA posted a total of 36 shots on goal — 24 through the first two periods alone — and had a total of 17 missed shots by the end of regulation. In looking at their shot placements, the Americans kept most of their shots below the faceoff dots — particularly in the first period — as they applied pressure down low on Slovenia.
On the other side, their defense held Slovenia when they could to the outside. When they couldn’t, 31-year-old goaltender Ryan Zapolski blanked the opposition through the first 40 minutes.
We also got to learn the names of a few forwards who will lead the way for Team USA in terms of scoring. Former New Jersey Devil and current KHL forward Brian O’Neill had two points for Team USA in the defeat, as he picked up the team’s first goal then assisted on its second. Jordan Greenway, a 20-year-old forward from Boston University, was the team’s second goalscorer as he helped Team USA double its lead in the second period.
Team USA couldn’t put three full periods of hockey together
Whether it be from growing pains of a newly formed team or a lack of a killer instinct, Team USA shut down in the third period. After Slovenia was kept off the scoresheet, and barely hanging around in the shot column in the first two periods, it tallied two goals on 11 total shots to force overtime.
Both goals saw heavy pressure in front of the American net, as the Slovenians were able to take advantage of the general confusion to put two goals past Zapolski in short order. While Team USA had done a solid job of keeping the sightlines clear in the first two periods, Slovenia jammed the front of the net and got two goals in the process.
In general, the Americans were sloppier with pucks in the third period and were unable to keep the Slovenians from jumping on rebounds. It’s hard to say if their conditioning ran down as the game wore on, but the deadlier team from the first two periods was nowhere to be seen.
Team USA is spreading ice time between veterans and youngsters
After one game, Team USA has partially shown its hand on its lineup process. Veteran defensemen Noah Welch and Matt Gilroy emerged as the top blue-line pair as the only players to hit over 20 minutes in the first game. Both are north of age 33 and both have spent time in and out of NHL lineups over their careers.
It was a surprise, however, to see James Wisniewski — who has 552 NHL games to his name — play just 2:51 in the entire game as the team’s seventh defenseman, with zero minutes of ice time coming in the third period.
On the offensive side, O’Neill was rewarded for his strong play in the first two periods with over five minutes of time in the third period. Gionta and Arcobello also clocked heavy minutes as veterans, while college favorites Greenway, Ryan Donato, and Troy Terry were among Team USA’s minutes leaders.
As play goes on in the preliminary tournament, the line of Donato, Terry, and Arcobello could be quite the force of nature if given the chance to shine once more.