By Jerry Sullivan
SOCHI, Russia -- Dan Bylsma announced early today that the Sabres' Ryan Miller will play goal this afternoon in the U.S. men's third and final preliminary game against Slovenia at Shayba Arena.
It's a smart move by Bylsma, who had a difficult job in choosing Jonathan Quick over Miller as his No. 1. This will give Miller some needed work, while showing deference to his spectacular performance in the 2010 Games. It also gives rest to Quick, who had to be exhausted after that epic shootout win over the Russians on Saturday. That will give Quick three days' rest before Wednesday's quarterfinals.
Tiny Slovenia, which is in its first Olympics and stunned Slovakia on Saturday, should be a fairly easy game for Miller. The Slovenes play a tight, conservative style and aren't likely to apply a lot of pressure in the offensive zone. But they proved against the Slovaks that they're a worthy opponent, so the Americans have to be wary of looking past them.
The U.S. probably needs to win this game to win Group A and earn an automatic berth to the quarterfinals. Russia plays Slovakia today at Bolshoy at the same time the U.S. meets Slovenia across the road at Shayba. In the unlikely event that the Americans lose today and Russia wins, the Russians win the pool.
If the U.S. loses the pool to Russia, it will have to play in the qualification round. They have five points (3 for a regulation win, 2 for an OT win.) Finland and Canada, who have yet to play in Pool B, each have 6 points. Sweden, the only 3-0 team at this point, has 9. Switzerland won two of three game in regulation and has 6 points.
Bottom line for the USA: Win today and they win the pool. A regulation win would give them 8 points in pool play. They would likely be the third seed, behind Sweden and the winner of Finland-Canada. That would mean a quarterfinal against the winner of the 6-11 qualification game.
My best guess for the U.S. opponent in the quarterfinals: Switzerland.