One of the concerns after the United States Olympic ice hockey roster was announced was whether or not Team USA would have enough offense to compete with the likes of Russia or Canada. After today’s game against Slovakia, those concerns may have been put to rest. Scoring six goals in the second period, Team USA dominated Slovakia, 7-1, in the early morning affair.
Both teams seemed tentative early in the first period. Sloppy passes and poor decisions with the puck left the flow of the game muddled and the crowd restless. It would be one of those poor decisions that led to the first goal of the game, as a turnover by Team Slovakia during a line change led to an odd-man rush going the other way. Forward Phil Kessel dropped a pass to defenseman John Carlson, who blasted a shot over the shoulder of Slovak goaltender, Jaroslav Halak. With just over five minutes left in the first period, the United States had broken through to begin their run for Sochi gold.
Slovakia scored their only goal of the game early in the second period, as Tomas Tatar found a hole in the United States defense and put the puck past goaltender, Jonathan Quick. It would be the only mark against the United States and one they would quickly respond to. In the next two minutes, Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny would score for the US bringing the score to 3-1. The United States seemed to come alive after those goals, as they forced a tripping penalty by Rene Vydareny shortly after that. Team USA didn’t score on the ensuing powerplay, but David Backes would backhand a puck past the Slovak goaltender just as the penalty expired.
Stastny would get his second of the game just minutes after the Backes goal, taking a cross-crease pass from Carlson and squeezing the puck past Halak. That would end the game for Halak, the Slovak coach making the decision to pull him from the game and replace him with Peter Budaj. Budaj wouldn’t fair much better, as the next two shots against him led to goals from Kessel and US alternate captain, Dustin Brown. Team USA scored four goals on four consecutive shots, capping off a six goal second period in a dominant effort against Team Slovakia.
Team Slovakia would have their chances in the third period, with Tatar coming close to his second goal of the game late, but key defensive plays and some timely saves prevented any hope of another Slovak goal. Slovakia’s defense looked overmatched the entire game, as the speedy US forwards had their way with them. Quick passes and a strong forecheck overpowered the Slovak defense, who were forced to replace some defensemen on their original roster due to injuries.
The next test for Team USA is on Saturday, where they put their young defense to the test in a matchup against the high octane offense of Team Russia. With the Russians beating the Slovenians in a game that was happening simultaneously, just a parking lot away from the United States-Slovakia game, the two teams will surely put on a good show. Like they performed against Slovakia today, Team USA will need to have another dominant effort against the Russians in order to win. And another six goal second period couldn’t hurt their chances either.
By Jonathan Gardner