This is the most anticipated first round showdown as it is the only preliminary game that sees two legitimate Gold Medal threats square off against one another.
UNITED STATES vs RUSSIA
7:30 AM EST
Here is how the teams match up:
GOALTENDING: Semyon Varlamov got the nod over reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in the opener and he got the win. That would seem to give him the inside track, but either goalie could play, and I might lean towards Bobrovsky in this one. Jonathan Quick has been tabbed as the starter for the US. Quick allowed 1 goal in a 7-1 whitewash of Slovakia
DEFENSE: Russia’s defense isn’t deep and is the team’s achilles heel. They are not a great group when compared to the other elite teams and Slovenia’s second goal where the forward knived easily through the defense illustrates that. The Americans have great top end talent led by Ryan Suter and have a nice mix of veterans (although not too old) and youth as well as skill and grit.
EDGE: UNITED STATES
FORWARDS: Both teams can be explosive offensively, as the Americans proved with 6 goals in one period against Slovakia. Phil Kessel is dynamic and was the star of the first game. Not to be outdone, Russia has some of the best offensively gifted forwards on the planet and are a threat to score on every shift.
These are two highly skilled, evenly matched groups, with the glaring difference being the blue line of the States. The forward on defensemen matchup will be key, and the American forwards facing the Russian blue line scares me more than the Russians on the US defense. Russia dies have the home crowd on its side, and this will be a factor one way or another. They seem to have embraced it, but if they fall behind it could turn to pressure in a heartbeat.
PREDICTION: This could require extra time, and if it goes to a shootout I would bet on Russia. But, in the normal course of play, the US should take it. US 5-4.