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Canada vs USA: Team Canada needs to step up offence in semifinal game

0217-oly-arthur-hockey

Article from Global News.

If there was ever a time for goal-scorers to live up to their reputations, this would be it.

Team Canada faces off against the U.S. in the semifinals of the men’s Olympic hockey tournament on Friday.

There won’t be a reprise of the final game of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but Friday’s game may as well be, with both teams ready to fight for the chance at gold – not particularly interested in third or fourth place.

Both teams are undefeated in the tournament. But Canada’s offense has been lacklustre throughout the Sochi Games, and in some cases non-existent.

Star forwards Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry and Martin St. Louis have yet to score a goal.

The majority of Canada’s offence has come from two defencemen: Shea Weber and Drew Doughty.

By contrast, the Americans have scored 20 goals in the tournament, averaging five a game.

Ahead of the semifinal game, head coach Mike Babcock said he was “pumped” – that Team Canada is finally starting to look like a team.

Leading up to the semifinals

On paper, Team Canada and the U.S. look like a pretty even match. They both head into the semifinal game with 3-0 records, winning two games apiece in regulation time and one each in extra time (Canada beat Finland in overtime, the U.S. downed Russia in a dramatic shootout).

Both rosters feature top NHL players, with experience in the Winter Olympics and Stanley Cup playoffs.

But if you’ve been watching the games in Sochi, differences start to emerge.

Who is the better team? If you’re from north of the border, you might not like the answer.

“I would say the Americans,” said Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer for The Hockey News.

Both teams are undefeated in the men’s Olympic hockey tournament, but Canada played in an easier group, facing AustriaNorway and Finland (they’re only real test in the preliminary round). The U.S. beat Slovakia, Slovenia and Russia – and looked good while doing it – to make it to the quarter-finals.

The U.S. easily beat the Czech Republic on Wednesday to advance to the semis, while Canada struggled to score against 11th seeded Latvia’s netminder Kristers Gudlevskis who played the game of his life.

But when they meet on Friday, all of this could be thrown out the window.

“When they actually meet, it’s a coin flip,” said Kennedy.

“These two teams are very familiar with each other because all of the players are from the NHL and they’ve played against each other in various World Junior competitions in the past, and even the last Olympics,” he said.

Kennedy said if he had to call it, he’d predict a 3-2 or 3-1 with an empty-netter kind of game.

Team Canada lineup vs USA

One thing is certain ahead of Friday’s semifinal game – John Tavares will not play. The New York Islanders captain took a hit along the boards during Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Latvia. A spokesman for the Islanders wrote in an email Thursday that Tavares suffered an MCL and meniscus tear in his left knee. He’ll miss the rest of the Olympic tournament and NHL season.

Matt Duchene will be back in the lineup against the U.S. on Friday. He will step into Tavares’ spot, centering Patrick Sharp and Rick Nash on the fourth line.

“I’m back at my natural position, which is going to be nice,” said Duchene. “And I played a lot of games on the big ice last year at centre so I know kind of what to expect in terms of that part of it as opposed to maybe playing on the wing.”

The lineup change highlights Canada’s depth down the centre going into the semifinals, who was a healthy scratch in two of the first four games in the tournament and played left wing in the other two.

“Duchy’s a real good centreman with great speed, so we’re not concerned about him that way,” said Babcock.

The top three forward lines will stay the same as the quarter-final game where Crosby centred Chris Kunitz and Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf centred Jamie Benn and Perry, and Toews centred Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter.

Babcock will also keep his defensive pairs together: Duncan Keith with Weber, Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Doughty, and Jay Bouwmeester with Alex Pietrangelo. Dan Hamhuis will rotate in as the 7th defenceman.

Carey Price will start in net, his fourth start of the tournament. He’ll be backed up by Roberto Luongo.

P.K. Subban and Mike Smith are healthy scratches.