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Canada’s defence the story as men’s hockey team advances to gold medal final with 1-0 over USA

Carey Price stopped 31 shots in the semifinal (ITAR-TASS - Artyom Korotayev)

Canada played the United States as well as they should have, and they got the result they deserved.

Cruising on an early second period goal by Jamie Benn, the Canadian men's national team team set up a date with Sweden in Sunday's final. Despite taking a one-goal lead into the third period, the Canadians opted to play defence with offence, rather than sitting back into a defensive shell. If not for an excellent performance by Jonathan Quick, Canada could have won this game with another goal or two, but eventually they settled for a 1-0 scoreline, defeating the Americans by the same margin they defeated the vaunted Latvians two nights ago.

The United States had a scary offence coming into the game. They'd won games by 7-1, 5-1 and 5-2 scores, eating up the minnows of the men's Olympic hockey tournament in a way that Canada couldn't behind the scoring prowess of Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk. However they didn't put too much pressure on the Canadian defence or Carey Price throughout the contest, recording just 12 scoring chances and only earned one in their six minutes of powerplay time.

Canada was looking, according to the CBC broadcast crew, to jump out of the gate early, but they conceded an early chance to Kessel on an individual rush by the great American forward in the first half minute of the game. From there, however, Canada would settle in and begin to dominate the first period in puck possession, all with different roles: Sidney Crosby gaining the line with his speed, Jonathan Toews shutting down the top American trio, and Ryan Getzlaf's surprising line of Benn and Corey Perry who capitalized on turnovers and cycled the puck expertly in the offensive zone, using the extra room on the ice to their advantage.

The goaltenders were excellent. Price, who was named the game's first star by CBC, made a wonderful glove save off John Carlson after the Americans settled in a little, but Quick responded with back-to-back stops off Crosby and Jeff Carter on a Canadian powerplay. Scoreless after the first, Canada no doubt held a large lead in scoring chances, and while they weren't able to maintain the same pressure throughout the game, held a lead over the Americans.

Here is the final count. One man's count, anyway, using the definition found over at Edmonton Oilers blog Copper and Blue:

1st 7 5 2 9 5
2nd 5 2 1 5 3
3rd 5 4 5 4
Total 17 11 2 1 0 0 19 12

(LEGEND: CAN: Canada, USA: United States, EV: Even strength scoring chances, PP: Powerplay scoring chances, SH: Shorthanded scoring chances, Tot.: Total scoring chances)

Per the International Ice Hockey Federation, Canada out-shot the United States 37-31, with a 16-12 advantage in that dominant first period, and held the US to nine shots in the entire third period, when you'd expect the Americans to be throwing everything and anything at the Canadian net.

The United States generated a solitary scoring chance after the 10-minute mark in the third period, a wrist shot off the stick of Zach Parise with 54 seconds to go, which was stopped by Price. Many proponents of the larger ice surface ignore that while there is theoretically more room on the ice for skilled players to operate, there is no more room in front of the net than on the North American surface. Most goals come from dirty areas in front of the net. If a defenceman turns the puck over along the boards in Europe, he has more time to recover before the attacker gets into position to take a good shot. Even though both teams did an excellent job at pouncing on turnovers throughout the game, there was very little room in front of either net despite how open the game was in the neutral zone.

As for Canada's best lines during the game, I thought that Sidney Crosby was excellent and he deserved a point or two in this one. Unfortunately, many of the scoring chances he set up were on the tape of Chris Kunitz' hockey stick, and Kunitz has quite clearly been a step behind the next level competition found at these games.

Still, Crosby and Patrice Bergeron were each on the ice for ten even strength Canadian chances and three even strength American chances, for an excellent ratio throughout the game:

Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
14 - Chris Kunitz 8 2 6
37 - Patrice Bergeron 10 3 7
87 - Sidney Crosby 10 3 7
12 - Patrick Marleau 3 4 -1
16 - Jonathan Toews 3 5 -2
77 - Jeff Carter 3 6 -3
15 - Ryan Getzlaf 3 3 E
22 - Jamie Benn 4 3 1
24 - Corey Perry 3 2 1
9 - Matt Duchene 2 2
10 - Patrick Sharp 1 2 -1
61 - Rick Nash 1 1
26 - Martin St. Louis E
2 - Duncan Keith 4 2 2
6 - Shea Weber 4 2 2
8 - Drew Doughty 6 4 2
44 - Marc-Edouard Vlasic 6 4 2
19 - Jay Bouwmeester 7 5 2
27 - Alex Pietrangelo 7 5 2
5 - Dan Hamhuis E

I'm not sure what to write about Crosby at this point. He's in an unprecedented funk offensively and it's tough to blame the competition since it's clear him and his linemates have been getting their chances throughout the Olympic tournament.

Analysts don't always use scoring chances. On-ice shot differentials are good to approximate how much time a player spent in the offensive zone, and I think that measure would be much more generous to the Getzlaf-Benn-Perry line. Getzlaf and Benn were each +1 in scoring chances and Perry was even, but to the eye, they played much better than that.

What of the defence? Duncan Keith didn't have a great game in his defensive zone to the eye, but again, his mistakes were washed by the Americans unable to take too much advantage of them. Drew Doughty and Marc-Edouard Vlasic often matched up against the American top line, hence the high number of chances against, and were caught on the ice in the seconds following an American powerplay on two occasions. Still, each pairing was a +2 in overall chance differential according to these numbers. There wasn't a lot to complain about back there. Jay Bouwmeester made some good pinches, made the play resulting in the Benn goal and didn't make any egregious mistakes leading to Grade-A American opportunities.

Finally, here's the tally for the result of individual chances, which gives us some indication of how well the goalies had to play. Kunitz missed the net on three of the four chances he took. It seems like that would generally alter the final scoreline:

Goals Saves Missed Total
Canada 1 13 5 19
United States 0 10 2 12

So far this tournament, Price has allowed just one goal on the 27 opposition scoring opportunities placed on net. Not bad, but the competition hasn't exactly been stiff. Austria, as it turns out, generated as many chances on the Canadian net as the Americans did.

We assumed coming in that Canada and the United States were evenly-matched enough that the game could be determined by a bounce, and that's pretty much what happened. There's a lot to like about the way the Canadians played, but ultimately all that matters is the 1-0 win in an elimination situation.

Canada goes up against Sweden Sunday at 7:00 a.m. Eastern in a repeat of the 1994 gold medal game. Since the International Olympic Committee began allowing NHL players to compete at the games, this will be the first ever cross-continental gold medal final.

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