Article written by Ryan Hale - Community Contributor
The Super Powers Collide
The match-up between the host country Russia men's hockey team and the visiting United States team has to be the most anticipated game in the group stages. Two powerhouse hockey clubs facing it off in order to try and get that automatic bye instead of having to hope their record is good enough to earn the pity one. You can be sure that the arena will be packed tomorrow morning with Russian fans trying to cheer their team to victory and their team will not be wanting to let them down. The amount of pressure on the Russians to preform well on home soil is immense.
Each of these teams won their first match ups. Russia survived a close game with Russia winning it 5-2 after being only one ahead of Slovenia 3-2 at one point. Contrast that with a United States team that even though they were tied early in the 2nd period 1-1, they never looked back. They scored six straight after Slovakia tied it to end the second period 7-1 which was also the final. Both teams are extremely strong and medal contenders so winning this game will be crucial for their medal hopes. They want to avoid playing that extra game at all costs.
Players to Watch
Alex Ovechkin: On a line with Evgeni Malkin this guy can do it all. He was the first to get Russia on the board against Slovenia with a rifled top shelf shot. He wants to win gold on his own soil so bad that he threatened to leave his NHL team and come play for Russia even if the NHL didn't take break. Look for him to light the lamp, or at least help someone else do it.
Phil Kessel: Quite simply this man is on fire right now. In the first United States game he assisted for two goals and scored one himself. Look for he and his linemate JVR to combine on a couple plays that may lead to goals. The US squad I'm sure would love it if he could stay on fire.
Jonathan Quick: The goalie who won game one allowing only one goal on 23 shots is going to have to face some higher firepower this time around. This will be a solid test to see if he can stand up to the international competition and possibly lead Team USA to the promised land.
Keys to the Game
Team USA: Play solid defense and work your way forward from there. There is no doubting the Russian attack is probably one of, if not the most powered offense in this competition. The US is going to have to counter that with smart hockey, crisp passes, and limiting rebound chances. If they can shut down Russia's top line and keep them from scoring, then the USA will probably win.
Russia: Don't let the United States control the tempo too much and don't get in your own heads if you fall behind. They have the offensive firepower to bounce back from a 1, 2, or even 3 goal deficit if they set their minds to it. However, with the pressure being on it might not take much to make them crack and if they crack then there is no chance for them to win this game. Staying focused on playing their brand of hockey gives them the best chance to win.
The fans! If this plays up to it's billing then it should be the most entertaining game we see until the gold medal match-up so make sure you tune in. In all seriousness I'm going to predict Team USA takes it 4-3 in a shootout. It's just too close to call.
Note, game time and more info can be found at our schedule!