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Ryan Getzlaf #15 of Canada and Oskars Bartulis #37 of Latvia fight for the puck during the Men's Ice Hockey Quarterfinal Playoff on Day 12 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
By now, most people know what the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team is all about. It's a group of skilled and speedy players who come at you in waves, as demonstrated in the team's 5-2 quarterfinal win Wednesday against the Czech Republic.
But no one is really sure what to make of Team Canada, who is their opponent on Friday in the semifinals -- a game that will be touted as a rematch of the gold-medal game four years ago in Vancouver. The game can be seen live at noon ET/9 a.m. PT on NBC Sports Network and on nbcolympics.com.
The U.S. was businesslike in its approach to Wednesday's win over the Czechs. They dominated in all aspects of the game, and used their quickness to make the Czech defenders look like pylons on the ice. Quick feet and quick passes led to quick shots on goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who seemed overwhelmed by the speed of the American attack.
"We continue to play to our strengths -- using our speed and beating guys to pucks, and then being hard-nosed in front of the net, scoring a few different ways here." defenseman Ryan McDonough told NBC's Pierre McGuire after the game.
In other words, the U.S. hasn't changed its game plan yet in Sochi, and the team continues to improve on the vision they had headed into the 2014 Games.
The Canadians, meanwhile, were the odds-on favorites to win gold in Sochi coming into the tournament. And while they were 3-0 in preliminary round play, two of those wins -- against Norway and Finland -- were closer than expected.
And then on Wednesday in the quarterfinals, Canada barely squeezed by an upstart Latvian squad, 2-1.
While the score was close, the shot margin wasn't. Canada outshot Latvia 57-16, and it was only because of the tremendous effort by goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis that Latvia was able to hang in there against the Canadians.
And there's the rub.
No one questions the skill level on Team Canada. But right now, that skill is not translating to complete success on the ice. Fifty-seven shots in a game is great, but getting just two goals past Latvia's backup netminder, well ... you want more from your all-star squad than that.
That makes it all the more difficult for the United States to prepare for them. Canada hasn't showed what it's capable of doing yet in Sochi. Heck, Team Canada brass, led by coach Mike Babcock, doesn't even know what its players are capable of just yet. The lines aren't set, and will have to be adjusted again after it was learned John Tavares is done for the rest of the tourney with a leg injury. The current offensive game plan isn't working. So how does anyone prepare for a game like this?
Babcock: "We play a U.S. team that seems to score real easy. We haven't scored real easy. But we'll be ready to play."
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) February 19, 2014
If anything, the Americans will at least go into the game with a laser focus on the things he things they can control -- i.e. themselves.
McDonough believes they've done a good job of that so far, especially on defense.
"We're really detailed in our meetings and structure," he told McGuire. "We're just trying to stay focused and go about our business here. We know the process here and how close the games can be."
The 2010 gold-medal game wasn't decided until overtime. Expect another close one on Friday.