SOCHI, Russia – When you have an award-winning recipe, it’s good to stick with it.
Just as they did on their silver-medal run in Vancouver, the U.S. is looking to improve every game, making sure that they’re hitting their stride by the time the single elimination portion of the tournament rolls around.
If Thursday’s opener is any indication, they have already set the bar pretty high.
The U.S. scored six goals in the second period, including two 66 seconds apart, to break a 1-1 deadlock to cruise to an impressive 7-1 win over Slovakia in the Olympic opener for both teams.
“Regardless of the score and regardless of the situation that our team is in we have to keep getting better,” said head coach Dan Bylsma, who notched a victory in his international coaching debut.
“Even though we won this game, we need to keep getting better and keep moving forward.”
Using its dynamic team speed on the big ice surface, the U.S. steamrolled a tough Slovakian team whose lineup is loaded with NHL stars, including Zdeno Chara, Marian and Marcel Hossa and Tomas Tatar, but was still missing a number of players who until now had always shined bright on the international arena including Marian Gaborik and the late Pavol Demitra.
“Obviously we played a pretty good game and scored some pretty nice goals, and we were fortunate out there tonight.”
One of the questions coming into the tournament was where would the U.S. find its offense. Judging from this game there may be no shortage of contributors. In addition to Kessel, Paul Stastny led the way with a pair of goals, and John Carlson and Ryan Kesler pitched in with a goal and an assist.
“I think it gets that monkey off a few guy’s backs who may have been a little apprehensive or nervous about their first Olympic experience,” said David Backes, one of 13 returning players from the 2010 squad.
“That’s a good thing to get out of the way and get some confidence going into the next game knowing that we have four lines that can produce and at any given time get that goal that we need. Balanced scoring is a good thing for us.”
And just like in Vancouver, the U.S. management group took heat for some of their selections to the 25-man roster, particularly some of their young defensemen. But the American brain trust was looking for speed and offensive ability on the back end to trigger the rush on the big ice. That was clearly on display against Slovakia.
“The way they snap the puck up on your stick and jump in the rush, from a forward’s standpoint it just makes the game a lot easier,” said U.S. captain Zach Parise.
Carlson got the U.S. on the board at the 14:27 mark of the first period when he cruised in from the point and one-timed a Kessel pass past Slovakia goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
“It was a pretty cool way to start the Olympics. I think that goal made us all feel more relaxed,” said Carlson, who scored the golden goal in overtime to beat Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championship.
The Slovaks managed to tie the score early in the second period on a goal from Tatar of the Detroit Red Wings, but that would turn out to be the last real offensive threat they would generate against Jonathan Quick, who stopped 22 shots in his first Olympic action.
“It wasn’t a game where he didn’t see a lot of shots but he was up to the task,” Bylsma said.
Goals from Kesler and Stastny just 66 seconds apart broke the tie and kick started the second-period onslaught. The six goals in the second period ties a U.S. mark, most recently in 2010 when the U.S. hung a six spot on Finland to punch their ticket to the gold-medal game.
By the time the ice chips settled, the U.S. had added four more goals and Halak had been parked at the end of the bench in favor of Peter Budaj.
“Games don’t always go like that, but it seemed like tonight we got one and then another and another,” Parise said. “Against a team like that that plays such a stingy defensive system you don’t expect to put in seven on them.”
Next up for Team USA will be Russia, who received an early scare from Slovenia before cruising to a 5-2 victory. Saturday’s game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome promises to be an electric atmosphere when more than 12,000 fans are expected to pack the arena to the rafters to cheer on the home team.
“It’s going to be fun, and they’re expecting it to be pretty loud,” said Parise, whose father, JP, played for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets. “It makes for a fun atmosphere to come over here and play in their rink. Even for the road team it should be an exciting game
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Tag(s): 2014 - Sochi, Russia