Posted: Sunday February 19, 2006 4:45PM; Updated: Monday February 20, 2006 1:00PM
Rick DiPietro has allowed just five goals in three games but his record is just 1-2.
David E. Klutho/SI
For all it matters, U.S. Olympic hockey coach Peter Laviolette can start Johnny Weir in goal Tuesday against the Russians.
Unless his gang that can't shoot straight loses to Russia and mighty Latvia (motto: We're the other Baltic Nation!) beats Kazakhstan by a combination of 16 goals, a happenstance along the lines of biathlon drawing higher ratings than the NFL, the Americans will be slithering into the quarterfinals on Wednesday as the fourth-place team in Group B.
Tangling in the crossover with the top seed in Group A might not be the most desirable position for a squad that has yet to find its swagger or its hands, but for the moment it is one of little consequence in a tournament as open as an all-night diner.
In fact, Laviolette will probably start Rick DiPietro -- and keep running him out there as long as the Americans are alive in the Olympics.
Unlike the prospect of Weir between the pipes, going with DiPietro would not constitute a bizarre sequins of events. There is nothing glowing about his 1-2 record beyond a perfunctory win over the Kazakhs, but DiPietro, who has allowed only five goals in the tournament, is Laviolette's best choice. The man who has the audacity to wear the red-white-and-blue-themed pads played well again, although just well enough to lose Sunday in the 2-1 match against Sweden.
DiPietro was beaten by a Daniel Alfredsson backhander off a Technicolor first-period rebound. He also gave up the power-play winner, another rebound goal, on a bang-bang play in the third -- distinctly not his fault. But the Swedes were on the power play expressly because DiPietro had fumbled another rebound, which had forced defenseman Jordan Leopold to take a penalty. One rebound goal is a mistake. Two rebound goals, well, that's starting to look suspiciously like a trend.
DiPietro could be free to leave live pucks all over the zone if his teammates could actually score a goal at something greater than a Halley's Comet pace. Initially baffled by Sweden's alignment on the 5-on-3 penalty kills in the second period -- two defenders high, one deep -- the Americans moved the puck around, looking for pretty backdoor plays, instead of testing goalie Henrik Lundqvist and pouncing on his rebounds. The U.S. had three shots, none of them clean, during 103 seconds of a two-man advantage, which actually turned out to be the better effort in its pair of 5-on-3s. Moments later, on their way to squandering another 1:55 of two-man largesse, they had trouble setting up and wound up taking one shot.