February 18, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- After Team USA's opening victory over Switzerland, Patrick Kane(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks said he felt his No. 1 line with Paul Stastny(notes) (Colorado Avalanche) and Zach Parise(notes) (New Jersey Devils) had a strong first period and then "regressed" after that.
By the end of the 6-1 victory for the U.S. over Norway on Thursday, Kane's line had been scrambled -- and the dominoes could fall throughout the American lineup ahead of Sunday's titanic matchup against Canada.
Said Langenbrunner: "I wouldn't be shocked by anything that we do. It's a short tournament. You have to try things."
Know this: The inability of the U.S. to possess the puck offensively and pressure in the opposing zone is affecting every facet of their game. It's taxing the defensemen to make plays. It's keeping goalie Ryan Miller(notes) busy in a game against Norway; what happens when it's Jarome Iginla(notes) and Sidney Crosby(notes) in the offensive zone instead of Mats Aasen Zuccarello and Mads Hansen?
People hear "offense" and assume it means "goal scoring." It doesn't. Outside of the David Backes(notes) Crash Line-like group that's humbled opponents and put goals on the board, there's no one putting a scare in an opponent or maintaining offensive pressure to relieve the pressure on Miller. It's one of the greatest failings of this young team in the young tournament -- despite its 2-0 record -- and Coach Ron Wilson indicated changes could be coming to the forwards.
The lines for the U.S. for the first two games:
Wilson said those lines could change in practice and, presumably, for the Canada game. It all starts with Patrick Kane's unique offensive game.
"Patrick's a winger, but he's really a center playing the wing. Paul Stastny [and Parise] need to touch the puck a little bit more," said Wilson, saying he was looking for compatibility. "Jamie Langenbrunner plays most of the time with Zach. I'm trying to look for chemistry, create chemistry. Sometimes it's not there.
"It wasn't Patrick Kane's fault -- he was playing Patrick Kane hockey. The difference between here and Chicago is that he's got two great offensive defensemen that jump into the play. We don't have that kind of dynamic defenseman to play with him. I think he'd be better suited, with what I can see right now, playing with Ryan Kesler(notes), who's playing really well, and maybe Bobby Ryan(notes) on the other side. Someone more suited for a two-way game. Getting Jamie up [to the top line] settles down Zach."
Ryan had been an integral part of the Backes line. Wilson said the initial reason for keeping Langenbrunner away from Parise in the lineup was to create a "shutdown line" with the Devils captain, Kesler and Dustin Brown(notes). The team's fourth line has served that role well, so the Langenbrunner line could be blown up with Brown heading to the Backes line.
The other change for the Americans against Norway was on the power play. Initially, Langenbrunner would play the point with a defenseman. After Norway scored a shorthanded goal and nearly another, Wilson moved Brian Rafalski(notes) to the point along with Ryan Suter(notes). The power play improved slightly, and greatly cut down on its mistakes.
None of this is panic for the U.S. It's mechanics. It's identifying some issues early and reconfiguring the lineup. Canada did the same thing in the win over Norway, placing Iginla with Crosby. It's a short tournament with short practice time; changes on the fly are going to happen.
Assuming Wilson isn't blowing smoke, the changes make sense. Parise needs to get going. Ryan has been a very effective power forward and can clear some room for Kane.
You hate to see two games of line continuity go scuttled, but it may be for the best. The U.S. doesn't have a prayer against Canada if they play this meekly in the scoring zone.