February 16, 2010

SI.com's Allan Muir is blogging today's game between Team USA and Switzerland, as the men's tournament begins.

On paper, the newly-revamped-with-youth Team USA ranks as the fourth-, maybe fifth-most talented squad in Vancouver. Still, they have to be considered legitimate contenders for the podium simply because of the game-changing presence of Ryan Miller in goal.

The Swiss slipped into the role of giant killer at the 2006 Games, shutting out Canada 2-0 and edging the Czechs 3-2. A bold statement from a developing hockey power? Not so much. The Swiss followed those stunners with ties against lightweights France and Italy. This club has neither the talent nor the emotional capacity to compete on a consistent basis, but there's that "any given Sunday" quality that demands they not be overlooked. They'll win a game in Vancouver, maybe two. The key for the contenders will be to avoid being lulled into a trap.

5:21 PM Eastern time: Final thought on the Americans: you have to love the talent of that first line, and they've got plenty of time to get their act together, so no need to overreact. But if it was this easy for the Swiss to not just hold Zach Parise, Paul Stastny and Patrick Kane off the scoresheet but really limit their chances, you have to think the Canadians, Swedes and Russians will throw a blanket over them. Ron Wilson might want to tinker with that unit, move one of the bigger bodies like David Backes up front to give the line a different dynamic.

5:19 PM Eastern time:Tough to be critical of a defense that allowed just 15 shots, but the Americans will need to make better puck decisions against the Norwegians on Thursday.

5:07 PM Eastern time: And there's the buzzer, final score USA 3-1. If I'm Ron Wilson, I'm finding more ice time for David Backes and his line on Thursday. Loved their aggressive play, thought it really set the tone early on.

5:02 PM Eastern time: Amazing what the Swiss have accomplished in this period with a more aggressive forecheck. Created several chances and earned a couple of power plays with their positioning. Easy to see how this game might have turned out differently if coach Ralph Kruger had changed the approach early in the second period instead of waiting until the third. The Swiss, to me, looked like a team that was playing with the goal differential in mind. With only one likely win in this round (Norway), they want to keep their numbers close to ensure better seeding in the second round.

4:55 PM Eastern time:Apropos of nothing, I like what I've seen of young Luca Sbisa. The key return to the Ducks in the Chris Pronger trade has made good decisions with the puck and has been unrattled by the American forecheck. Looks like Anaheim has a good one.

4:50 PM Eastern time: Spoke too soon. The Swiss are on the board. Roman Wick scores on the power play to make it 3-1. Simple play, give-and-go at the blueline with Hnat Dominichelli dropping the puck to Wick and going hard to the net. Wick's shot rolls past Ryan Miller as he's distracted by Dominichelli's presence out front.

4:49 PM Eastern time: Another power play for the Swiss. Ryan Suter delivers a hit to the head of Roman Wick, and that's an automatic penalty in international play. Swiss are starting to generate some chances, but they're either being blocked or sent wide.Says a lot about the defensive zone positioning of the American D.

4:44 PM Eastern time: First penalty taken by the U.S., but it's not a bad one. The Swiss were driving the net hard so that Joe Pavelski tied up Andres Ambuhl. 15 minutes left. Yannick Weber's taken three shots on this PP and all three have been blocked. It's like he can't recognize the absence of a shooting lane...

4:41 PM Eastern time: Another brutal play by Ryan Suter, who makes an ill-advised pinch that leads to a three-on-two chance for the Swiss. Americans need to keep it simple and smart.

4:38 PM Eastern time: I've gotten a few emails asking why Ryan Miller didn't get an assist on the David Backes goal. Pretty simple -- he didn't make a play with the puck. After he stopped the initial shot, the puck was lying between his open legs. Backes picked it up, went end-to-end and scored. If he'd cleared it to Backes, or even knocked it into the corner for a player to pick up, he would have earned the assist.

4:31 PM Eastern time: Notice how the Americans have scored their goals? Going hard to the net. The snipers are staying to the outside and trying to go high glove, but the big bodies are making it happen in the greasy areas.

4:25 PM Eastern time: I really liked the hustle and creativity of the Zach Parise-Paul Stastny-Patrick Kane line in the first period, but they seemed to lose a bit of their drive in the second. Have to think they'll be pushed to show a bit more energy in the third.

4:23 PM Eastern time: Another bad pinch leads to another odd-man rush for the Swiss. Mark Streit gets off a long distance slapper, but Ryan Miller handles it easily. Gotta wonder what he's doing to keep his mind in this one. Period ends with the Americans holding a well-earned 3-0 lead. Swiss still don't have 10 shots for the game.

4:19 Eastern time: Don't think Ryan Miller faced a shot since before the David Backes goal. The Americans are dominating every part of the ice right now....and just as I write that, Roman Wick gets in alone behind the defense and Miller pokes it off his stick at the last second.

4:16 PM Eastern time: Swiss are definitely opening it up and that's allowing the U.S. to step into more lanes and create turnovers. You get the feeling this game is only a play or two away from being broken wide open.

4:15 PM Eastern time:Americans are generating more down low and in front. This isn't a big team, but they've definitely established a physical advantage as the game's wearing on. Looks like that NHL-level conditioning is paying off.

4:13 PM Eastern time: Another power play chance for the Americans as the Swiss take a delay of game penalty. Yannick Weber just panicked when he saw the check coming at him. The US is 1 for 2 on the PP so far. Might be a good chance for coach Ron Wilson to try a couple of different looks on the PP to see what kind of chemistry he might be able to create.

4:11 PM Eastern time:Why on earth are the Americans pinching at the blueline? Just happened again when Ryan Malone was back covering the point and it created another odd-man chance for the Swiss. C'mon guys...this is pee-wee stuff. Three goal lead, no need to take chances.

4:09 PM Eastern time: There it was: Swiss create a two-on-one for Julien Sprunger who has Ryan Miller down and out and he shoots it over the net. Unbelievable...just shows the discrepancy in finishing talent. Took an extra step to settle the puck down and still missed the net. Brutal.

4:05 PM Eastern time: Ryan Malone makes it 3-0 on the power play. Americans flood the front of the net with both Joe Pavelski and Malone down low, too many big bodies for the Swiss D to handle. Jonas Hiller fails to control a rebound and Malone bangs it home. Have to think the Swiss will open it up now, and that's going to allow the U.S. to make the most of their speed on the counterattack.

4:02 PM Eastern time: So what do the Swiss do now? Better than 13 minutes left in second, but they're generating nothing offensively. And now they're on another penalty kill...the Americans score here, it's church. Yep. It's church. Ryan Malone....

3:57 PM Easten time: David Backes goes end to end and scores after Ryan Miller makes a sprawling save. Isn't that always the way? The Swiss get their best chance of the night with Miller making a great stretch out front, then Backes carries the puck down the ice, beats Yannick Weber to the inside, goes backhand, forehand and beats Jonas Hiller far side. 2-0 U.S.

3:53 PM Eastern time: Did Phil Kessel miss his plane to Vancouver? ... We're 25 minutes in and the Swiss have just five shots on net. Have to love their commitment to the system, but at some point they have to shoot the puck. A little havoc in the corners might be the ticket.

3:51 PM Eastern time: Swiss have to be pretty happy with the way this is unfolding. They're limiting American chances and, outside of a couple turnovers at the blueline, they're keeping their mistakes to a minimum.

3:49 PM Eastern time: Second period underway.

3:35 PM Eastern time: The first period's in the books. Geez, blistering pace. Shots 8-5 for the U.S., but that was a fairly evenly played period.

3:34 PM Eastern time: The goal goes in the books unassisted as Bobby Ryan picked it up off a miscue by a Swiss defender.

3:31 PM Eastern time:Bobby Ryan scores at 18:59 of the first to give the US a 1-0 lead. Great work down low by David Backes who created the play with a persistent forecheck. Ryan picks up a wobbling puck right in the slot and wrists it over the glove of Jonas Hiller. How great is hockey without the annoyance of TV timeouts?

3:30 PM Eastern time: Swiss are doing a great job keeping Patrick Kane to the outside. Zach Parise seems to be the only one gaining any ground on the inside. Swiss applying some pressure as the US defense scrambles in its own zone. No shots, but a couple of dangerous opportunities.

3:28 PM Eastern time: First big test of the game, with Switzerland's Julien Sprunger picking up a loose puck to the side of Ryan Miller, who knocked down a backhand bid.

3:25 PM Eastern time: Trying to get a look at the back of Ryan Miller's mask. The IOC had a problem with a couple of the design elements and wanted him to remove the words Miller Time and Matt Man (the latter a tribute to a deceased cousin).

3:23 PM Eastern time: Nice kill by the Swiss. Kept the Americans bottled up along the boards and limited them to just one harmless shot.

3: 21 PM Eastern time: First penalty of the game. Swiss are a man down when Blindenbacher is called for hauling down Dustin Brown -- good break for the States. Call could just as easily have gone against Brown for holding the stick. Odd look for the U.S. power play...Langenbrunner on the point, Brown on the draw.

3:18 PM Eastern time: Bobby Ryan was just crushed by Switzerland's Mark Streit in the corner. Ryan goes into the boards face first, but looks to be okay.

3: 15 PM Eastern time: Swiss are throwing the body pretty effectively down low. They keep tenderizing the Americans like this, they'll create the turnovers they need to mitigate the skill disadvantage.

3:12 PM Eastern time: Swiss are playing a 1-2-2 system, clogging up the neutral zone to mitigate the American speed advantage on the wing.

3:09 PM Eastern time: Swiss defense looking overmatched early on as the U.S. first line gets off four shots against Switzerland's fourth line.

3:07 PM Eastern time: Welcome to the SI.com live blog. Players I'll be watching: Zach Parise. The first line winger is coming into the Games hot, scoring in three straight. He'll be the key to the American offense. Ryan Whitney: The Ducks' defender was overlooked for the original roster, but added as an injury replacement. He'll have to provide some veteran stability to a blueline that's relying on some very young players in Erik and Jack Johnson. Hnat Dominichelli: Switzerland's only real scoring threat is small, but so are the Americans. He has a chance to make a real impact in this game.

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