Breaking down the USA-Canada matchup for women's ice hockey gold
Team Canada has averaged just 3.5 goals per game in Sochi, a massive drop from its showing in Vancouver, when the Canadians put up 46 goals in their first four games. They have plenty of skilled snipers, including forwards Meghan Agosta and Marie-Philip Poulin. But the advantage up front has to go to the U.S., with its mix of speedy, skilled and feisty forwards. The Americans' top line of Hilary Knight, Kelli Stack and Alex Carpenter has been dominant against lesser teams, with seven goals combined, while an energetic third line, with captain Meghan Duggan and twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, can push the pace of the game and chip in timely offense.
Team USA's defensive corps features some booming shots, but it’s young and relatively inexperienced, with just one returning Olympian. Team Canada’s blueliners have been terrific in Sochi, particularly when they silenced some of the Americans' top scorers in the first meeting last week -- the shutdown pair of Meaghan Mikkelson and Jocelyne Larocque was particularly good. Without the goal scoring the Canadians are used to, the defense has kept tight leads from going the other way.
Team Canada coach Kevin Dineen has used his tandem of Charline Labonte and Shannon Szabados interchangeably in this tournament, and will be comfortable with either in net against the Americans. But Szabados, who leads all goalies in Sochi with a .972 save percentage, should get the nod. She also has the experience of being the netminder that shut out the U.S. in 2010. The U.S., likewise, will likely ride its 2010 goalie, Jessie Vetter, who hasn’t been tested much so far. It’s not her fault her team outshot Sweden 70-9 in the semifinal, but the goalie could use more looks in real pressure situations. So the edge in net goes to Canada.
This game will come down to speed. If the Canadians can slow the pace of the game and keep the U.S.’s offense to the outside, they can certainly take advantage of breakdowns, like veteran teams are able to do. In the preliminary round, Agosta scored twice on a fast transition game that came off of U.S. turnovers. Team USA, on the other hand, will look to use its speed to manage the game. The secondary scoring line of youngsters Kendall Coyne, Brianna Decker and Amanda Kessel, all in their first Olympics, was relatively quiet in the first meeting with Canada, but its speed and skill should be an overall asset. If the three can evade the Canadian defense, or better yet, put it on its heels, they could have some game-breaking moments.