BEIJING – Mark Twain said there are three types of falsehoods: lies, damned lies and statistics.
A cursory look at the statistics of Tuesday’s women’s Olympic hockey game between the U.S. and Canada and you’d think the Americans walked away with the W. That is until you look down the ledger at the bottom line and check out the final score.
Despite outshooting the Canadians by almost a two-to-one margin, the Americans came up short on the scoreboard with a 4-2 loss to close out the preliminary round.
“We had a lot offensive zone time and generated a lot of shots, but shots don’t win games, goals do and we ended up on the wrong side of the goal scoring,” said U.S. head coach Joel Johnson of his team’s 53 to 27 shot margin.
“It’s great to get zone time and shots on goal, but when they’re blocking as many as they did, shots don’t matter. We’ve got to find a different way to create higher quality scoring chances if we expect to win a game like this.”
Many of the U.S. shots on goal were taken from the perimeter as the Canadians packed the middle of the ice making it hard to reach into the prime scoring areas. While blocked shots are not a stat counted by the IIHF scoring system, the number of shots that never reached goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens were more than Johnson cared to count.
“When we shoot from the [point] they’ve got three or four goaltenders in the way. Only one of them is wearing pads, but they’re all doing the same thing,” he said.
“We’ll make those adjustments as we go forward and hopefully to get another opportunity to play them again.”
The solution is to create more chances in high traffic areas, like Dani Cameranesi when she followed her own shot to score her second goal of the tournament midway through the second period. Or where Alex Carpenter was when she slipped through a crack in the Canadian defense and flick home a backhander that gave the U.S. a short-lived lead.
“When you have a lot of traffic in front of the net it’s always difficult. At the same time, we need to be better at finding those rebounds and putting them in the net,” said Carpenter, who leads the U.S. with four goals.
This team has enough experience to know you don’t have to win all the games in an Olympic tournament, you just have to win the right ones.
That starts on Wednesday with the knockout portion of the tournament where Canada will face Sweden in one quarterfinal while the U.S. draws Czechia. The other two quarterfinal matchups include the Russian Olympic Committee taking on Switzerland and Finland facing off against Japan.
The U.S. is also experienced enough to know they need to play a full 60 minutes if they’re going to beat Canada. After a dominant first period, the Americans kept their foot on the gas to start the middle frame to grab the lead on goals from Dani Cameranesi and Alex Carpenter before the wheels came off.
During a five-minute stretch the Canadians scored a pair of goals 2:45 apart, followed by Marie Philip Poulin’s penalty shot that came after a U.S. turnover led to a short-handed breakaway attempt that was thwarted by a Cayla Barnes slash.
“We had some tough shifts in the second period, and you can’t do that, especially against Canada,” said U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. “It’s little things that we learned and will definitely take away for the next game.”
There’s still time to tweak the game plan that has worked well against other teams but didn’t produce the same results against Canada. These North American rivals could meet again with the gold medal on the line in nine days. If and when that day comes, the U.S. will have a new game plan in place.
“We will definitely learn from it,” said U.S. goaltender Maddie Rooney, who was hoping to repeat her Olympic success from four years ago when she stymied Canada in the gold-medal game.
“After a loss like this, we have big games coming up here so you have to have a short-term memory. We’ll learn from the mistakes, learn from the opportunities that we need to capitalize on and take what we gain from this game going into the next.”