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US out to solve its Olympics scoring problem vs Slovakia

February 19, 2018

Broc Little (14), of the United States, and Russian athlete Vasili Koshechkin (83) battle for the puck during the third period of the preliminary round of the men's hockey game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The United States had a goal-scoring problem at the Olympics.

If it lasts much longer, the Americans are going home early.

Only Norway and South Korea scored fewer goals than the four the U.S. put up in three preliminary-round games. Yet only Canada has gotten more shots on net than the United States’ 96 so far, so the goal in the qualification round against Slovakia on Tuesday is to figure out a way to turn opportunities into production.

“We haven’t scored goals, but we’ve a made it hard on teams in their own end,” coach Tony Granato said.

Without the young offensive talent of players like Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau and Shayne Gostisbehere left behind in the NHL, USA Hockey knew this could be a problem after seeing similar high shot and low goal totals from the Deutschland Cup in November. The late general manager, Jim Johannson, brought in college players Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, American Hockey League scoring star Chris Bourque and former power-play specialist James Wisniewski to score and they’ve combined for three of the four goals.

A goal or two a game isn’t going to get it done from this point on. Maybe the U.S. hasn’t gotten many helpful bounces, but at times it hasn’t deserved them.

“We need to make sure we’re getting more pucks to the net and earn our bounces,” defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti said. “It’s a combination (of) screens, the traffic and the secondary speed crashing the net, trying to find those loose pucks.”

Falling into the trap North American teams sometimes do on the wider international ice, the U.S. has taken a lot of harmless shots from far out, many without traffic in front of the net to screen the goaltender. Many goals in this tournament have come on those kinds of shots — deflecting off a body or stick in front — or scrambles around the net.

That’s a talking point for U.S. coaches and players.

“We’ve got to get more bodies to the net, we’ve got to be hungry around the net,” forward Broc Little said. “We’re getting a lot of shots, but they’re not quite the looks that we need. We’ve got to take the goalie’s eyes away. I think we’ve had a lot of point shots, a lot of shots from outside and goalies in this tournament are going to be too good to beat them there.”

U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski has been off and on and will be needed to stop the shots he’s supposed to against Slovakia, especially given the offensive struggles. Granato said his team got four or five “glorious” chances in a 4-0 loss to the Russians and believes he has the skill on the ice to finish.

“Creating scoring chances doesn’t do anything for you,” Granato said Monday. “Finding ways to produce and score does, so I think we’ve got enough goal-scorers in that room that have had enough chances to feel good about creating the chances and now it’s about, ‘OK, I’ve got to find a way even to work harder or find a way to deserve a bounce by positioning myself a little more aggressively around the net.’”

In addition to higher-quality shots and more bodies for goaltenders to see through, one key might be the Americans using their speed — feet and puck movement — against a big Slovakia team that may not be able to handle that.

“We’re a fast team, so we really have to make sure we move the puck quick,” Wisniewski said. “Maybe our defensemen have to get the puck toward the net and make sure we get it to the net, not getting it blocked, and we have to create some rebounds and some screens.”

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

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