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Don’t Look Now, Kids, But the U.S. Team Is Atop the Hockey Standings

At the conclusion of the United States–Norway game yesterday afternoon, articles like this one — which explains that the Americans still have some things to work on before their matchup with Canada on Sunday — made sense. The Americans looked okay enough, and they did win 6–1, even if that score is a bit misleading (the U.S. added a few late goals to blow it open and boost their goal differential). But Norway was clearly the weakest team in Group A, and anything other than 60 minutes of domination had to be considered unacceptable. But by the end of the day's games, Canada and Russia would be wishing their biggest problem was routing a team in sufficient enough fashion.

In prime time, the Swiss team took the Canadians to overtime and heard boos in just their second game at GM Place Canada Hockey Place. The Canadians would eventually win thanks to a Sidney Crosby goal in the shootout — the Olympic shootout rules make for some interesting strategy decisions, eh? — but for that, they only receive two of the possible three points. Then, while you were probably sleeping, the Slovakian team pulled the tournament's first upset in a shootout win over Russia. (Shootout strategy came into play in a big way here, where Alex Ovechkin shot three times, missing twice.) Yesterday's action leaves the Americans as the only team with two regulations wins — though look for the Czech Republic, Finland, and Sweden to join that club today.

The Russians, really, don't need to be ashamed about a preliminary loss to Slovakia, because Slovakia's a very good, if overlooked, team. As for Canada, a little bit of adversity — and that's all this really is — might be a good thing. You'll recall in 2002 in Salt Lake City, they lost their opener to Sweden and beat Germany just 3–2, while our neighbors to the north called for GM Wayne Gretzky's head. They went on to win the gold that year. Better to realize now that it won't be a cakewalk to the gold-medal game than once it's too late.

Photo: Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images