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U.S. women still can't figure out Canada

Eric Adelson
Columnist

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — She saw the move on YouTube. She decided to try it.

It was late in the second period of another classic matchup with Canada, and the defending gold medalists had taken a 2-0 lead over the U.S. A puck was covered up in the crowded Canada crease and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson knew right away there would be a penalty shot. She got the call to take it.

She had seen a highlight of a goal where a European player dragged the puck between his legs, only to whip it quickly into a deke and a backhand shot. Somewhere along the way from the referee’s placing the puck at center ice and the moment she entered the slot, she went with it.

Canada goalie Genevieve Lacasse tracked it the whole way. She went to the ice to get low – what Lamoureux-Davidson hoped – yet she stayed upright enough to deflect the shot over the top of the net.

“If I score, it looks good,” Lamoureux-Davidson said with a sheepish grin.

If.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson of the U.S. (L) misses a penalty shot against Canada goalkeeper Genevieve Lacasse. (REUTERS)

That’s the maddening word that describes this rivalry right now, at least on the American side. If a long clearing pass hits the empty net instead of the post in the waning moments of the 2014 gold medal game, it’s the Americans defending their title now. If Brianna Decker buries a shot from point-blank, only a couple of minutes after Lamoureux-Davidson misses her penalty shot, perhaps it’s a tie game going into the third. If just one more of the 45 shots the U.S. took on Thursday afternoon finds its way through the mass of bodies at the goalmouth, this Canada spell of four straight Olympic wins is busted.

Instead, Canada is undefeated going into the medal round, and the U.S. enters the critical portion of the tournament at 2-1. The Americans do look like the better team, and yet that’s not what the Olympics results say.

The U.S. took it to their rivals early on Thursday: they outshot Canada 14-12 in the first period and 18-6 in the second. And yet they were still being shut out in the only crucial stat. It was Lacasse who was brilliant, and it was Canada’s defense preventing rebounds, and it was dumb luck. Those are three things that are tough to control.

So there is still one more mountain for the U.S. to climb to win that gold medal back after 20 years, and it is a mental mountain. It got just a little steeper here on Thursday.

“It’s the mindset of an elite athlete,” captain Meghan Duggan said. “We’re professionals. We’re trained to perform under all conditions. You can’t let it get in your head.”

So what’s the answer? Is it to just keep hustling, just keep shooting? That seems to be the most logical response. The Americans fired 45 shots and you’d think that kind of firepower would lead to a victory if the teams meet again in the final. But to expect Canada to come with the same approach is not wise. The championship rematch, should it happen, will be a different game.

Does coach Robb Stauber change goalies? Maddie Rooney was solid in net on Thursday, so there’s no pressing reason to switch. But Lacasse was much more than solid. That’s one decision that won’t be on the minds of anyone wearing red and white.

Do you figure out a way to get the puck onto the stick of Kendall Coyne more often? She is the one weapon that Canada does not seem to have an answer for. Coyne blitzed past four defenders early in the third and scored the Americans’ only goal. There was no one on the ice as dangerous, and there may be no one in the tournament as good. She is a playmaker and a finisher and the U.S. needs both.

But of course that means Canada will do its very best to shadow Coyne in a possible rematch.

Maybe stay the course is the right strategy. Talent and will do not account for this losing streak against Canada. “We believe this team is ready for a breakout,” Stauber said after the game. It appears that way, as the engine of the offense is firing more than Thursday’s game would indicate. The dam seems ready to burst.

“We just have to find a way to put those [pucks] in the net,” Lamoureux-Davidson said.

It is that simple. And that difficult.

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