So, what did we learn about the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team?
The short-attention-span answers are the Americans can skate, score and check in what amounted to a 1-week regular season.
I think we already knew the Americans had the goaltending to capture the gold, and a couple pairs of shut-down defensemen to convince you they wouldn’t get outclassed in a specific area.
But yet, in a cold-eyed evaluation of the preliminary round, the Americans played one team worthy of a medal, and they couldn’t beat the Russians without a gimmick.
The Americans finished with a 2-1-0-0 record, Olympic standings being as silly as the NHL’s. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two regulation wins, one overtime/shootout win, and zero overtime/shootout losses and regulation losses. Got it?
Yes, that’s from the same idiots who let a team use the same shooter again and again and . . .
Moving right along, the Americans earned the second seed in the medal round bracket, behind Sweden and ahead of Canada. They’ll face the survivor of the Czech Republic-Slovakia border war Wednesday and after winning that one, they’ll face a border war of their own against Canada on Friday for the right to play for the gold in the last event of the 2014 Games.
In examining in greater detail what we’ve learned about the Americans, start with evidence their forwards can score. That was supposed to be a big question about the Yanks, although I wondered why when I heard it. After all, four of the top 11 goal scorers in the NHL are Americans, only one fewer than Canada.
Not only can the U.S. score, but the Americans showed depth in the opener against Slovakia, getting goals from all four lines and even during a line change.
Now, if only Patrick Kane could score. He has made some nice passes and seemed to have been dangerous every shift he played with Joe Pavelski, but then, every American who has skated with Pavelski has been dangerous.
In fact, the Wisconsin native is threatening to become the 2014 version of Jonathan Toews, circa 2010. Of that Toews, who would be named most outstanding forward, Canadian coach Mike Babcock said that his best players are the ones skating on a line with the Blackhawks captain.
Another important lesson we learned about the U.S. team is that it can play without the puck. Good thing, too, because the Americans didn’t have it for most of the third period against the Russians.
The Americans couldn’t play their puck-possession game because the Russians were better at it and thus dictated the play. In a fly-or-die period, the Americans showed they could stay with their checks and adapt quickly to reading their landmarks on an ice surface that is wider than they’re used to.
Once the U.S. gets past the Czechs or Slovaks, they will face the best of the best at puck possession. If they aren’t willing to come back hard and stick with defensive assignments, then they’ll head home early.
Remarkably, we learned the U.S. team can play physical and can play it well. They took the body against the slick Russians on the wider ice and it worked. They hit the Russian stars, and the Russian stars stayed hit.
It’s a dangerous way to try to win a gold medal. The wider ice punishes a missed check worse than in the NHL. When you run at an opponent in the Olympics and miss, you need a taxi to get back to the slot, and by then you’ve probably given up a quality scoring chance.
But the ability to play physical is a handy weapon because it can bother some Europeans who aren’t used to it on the wider ice.
Perhaps the most important thing we learned was the Americans showed they’re mentally strong. I don’t know if it’s a surprise or not, but you never know how players will act when they go over the boards in front of the world like this until they actually go over the boards.
After that emotional and dramatic win over a Russian team with home-country advantage, there was the fear the Americans would let down against a considerably less talented Slovenian team.
And then Phil Kessel scored in the first 64 seconds.
And then Kessel scored again. And again. And there you go, a decisive victory over an opponent the way a gold-medal contender should do it.
Kessel’s goals and the response against Slovenia marked the third time in three games that maturity was demanded and delivered.
The game before that, the Yanks refused to die against the the Russians after Pavel Datsyuk did another Pavel Datsyuk thing in the third period.
In the opener against Slovakia, the Americans gave up the tying goal in the second period of a game they seemed to control, but instead of falling apart, they destroyed the Slovaks with six straight goals.
Talk about the ability to respond.
And talk about perhaps the most important trait now that we’ve entered a week of win or go home.