Kane, top scorers need to find way
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Team USA is two wins away from its first men's Olympic hockey gold medal since Al Michaels asked us if we believed in miracles.
But for those two victories to materialize, the Americans need more from their high-end offensive stars. These next two games (the U.S. will face Finland in the semifinals Friday) are the toughest yet.
A huge development in Wednesday's 2-0 quarterfinal win over Switzerland was the breakout game from Zach Parise, who was his old self in a two-goal performance, his first tallies of the tournament.
"It's a relief," said the New Jersey Devils star. "It's a great feeling. It's fun to score in a tight game, whether it's in the NHL or the Olympics, to get one in a tight game where you feel like you just need to break through."
"We got a great performance from Zach Parise today," said Team USA coach Ron Wilson. "He was easily our best player. And in big games, your best players rise to the occasion."
Throw out the 6-1 rout over Norway, and Stastny, Kane and Kessel have combined for one assist in the tournament. That's just not good enough.
"It's frustrating, for sure," Kane said. "But obviously other guys are stepping up right now, and in this kind of a tournament, you take the win over goals any time."
Let's not underplay this: Stastny is the team's No.1 center. His linemates, Parise and the ever-consistent Jamie Langenbrunner, were fantastic Wednesday, but Stastny still looks like he's pressing. He wasn't available to the media after the quarterfinal win.
Kessel was benched for long stretches against Canada on Sunday, but was more visible against Switzerland and nearly scored when one of his first-period shots hit the crossbar. His line with Joe Pavelski and Ryan Malone was more effective and they'll need to continue the trend.
"Yeah, I think we were going a bit better today," said Kessel. "We had quite a few chances, so we're happy about that."
But still no goals from Kessel other than against Norway.
"Obviously you're trying to produce, but you're trying to get wins and whatever it takes to get wins is all you really want," said the Toronto Maple Leafs winger.
Kane is the biggest mystery. He's the leading NHL scorer this season among U.S.-born players with 67 points (25-42) in 61 games with the Chicago Blackhawks. But aside from one goal against Norway, he's got nothing here. He was demoted off the top line, but still hasn't really clicked with Ryan Kesler.
"Right now, it's just not working," Kane said. "Like I said, I'll work hard at practice [Wednesday], try to get things going, and I think the big thing for me is just to go out there and play my game."
And there's the rub. Kane, like Kessel and Stastny, has maintained a great attitude. There's no sulking here. Team USA is 4-0.
"It's a blast, we're one of the last four teams," said Kane. "It's not just here in Vancouver, but all of the United States, all of Canada, and the whole world watching. For that not to be fun, it's just a thrill to experience this."
Wilson also bristled when reminded that Kane, Kessel and Stastny still are struggling offensively.
"We're doing something right to be 4-0," said Wilson. "This happens all the time in the NHL, where the so-called top players go without a goal. Here, we're talking [Alex] Ovechkin goes a game without a goal and we're saying, 'What's wrong with him?' Or [Jarome] Iginla goes two games without a goal and we say, 'What's wrong with Iginla?' This is hard hockey.
"We tend to overanalyze everything. The only thing that matters is what we feel inside that dressing room."
And right now, the feeling is good.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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