DENVER - DENVER (AP) — With two months to go before the Vancouver Games, Mark Johnson is still trying to find the right mix.
The U.S. women's coach tweaked his lineup in a 4-2 exhibition loss to Canada on Saturday night, and the new combinations got off to a sluggish start before breaking through in the final period.
"Other than the score, I thought we're making progress," Johnson said.
The Americans rolled out retooled line combinations and played longtime forward Julie Chu on defense. All part of the plan to be better 60 days from now.
"Nobody's giving out report cards or medals in December," said USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean, who was in attendance at the University of Denver's Magness Arena. "This is all part of the process of getting ready for Feb. 14 and beyond."
Marie-Philip Poulin and Caroline Ouellette scored 58 seconds apart in the second period, helping the Canadians beat their top rival for the fourth time in five games.
Gina Kingsbury and Meghan Agosta also scored for the Canadians, and Kim St. Pierre stopped 27 shots.
"I think we're on a good roll," Canadian forward Hayley Wickenheiser said. "We've been playing well and training pretty hard. It's given us a good competitive edge that way."
Canada jumped out to an early lead against an American squad that initially appeared out of sync.
"We got up 3-0, but the U.S. didn't back down," Canada coach Melody Davidson said. "Full credit to them. They made us earn that win for sure."
Two days later, the United States will trim its roster by two to 21 players.
It's making for some anxious players.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a concern," said Hilary Knight, who had one of the U.S goals. "It's definitely in the back of your head. You do as much as you can not to think about it. It will weigh you down if you think about cuts and losing two of your best friends, family members."
Johnson knows he has some tough decisions in the next week. And this may have been the last chance to make a final impression.
"We tweaked things around the last three weeks, to give everyone a real fair opportunity in regards to making the final 21," Johnson said. "Tonight, was no different."
Outside of third-period goals from Knight and Karen Thatcher, the Americans couldn't solve St. Pierre. She made one sprawling save after another.
"Like any other goaltender, you have to find their weaknesses," said Knight, who leads the team with nine goals this season. "She played great tonight. They're good contenders — always a fun game when we play them."
That's why it's such an entertaining rivalry.
"I think it's a terrific rivalry and one of the best there is for the sport," Davidson said. "But it's a healthy one."
Ogrean couldn't agree more. It's setting up for good theater in Vancouver.
"I think each country has two really good goaltenders and two really good coaches," Ogrean said. "We're going to go into Canada, perhaps the advantage to them because they're home. We know when we go into the Olympic building, 95 percent of the audience or more is going to be wearing a red-and-white jersey and cheering for Canada. That is both a wind in their sails but also a weight on their shoulders. We'll be going up there with one goal — ready to play."