In game one of the men’s Olympic hockey tournament on Thursday morning, the United States team started out a bit slow and sloppy before the team members got their bearings on the bigger Olympic ice (there’s about 18% more ice space than in the NHL). However, once they got their feet under them and started to figure out the Slovakian defensive schemes, things really started to pick up for the USA.
It’s hard to believe when looking at the US’s win by a final score of 7-1, but this game was close until about two minutes into the second period, when the US broke the one-all tie. From there on out it was a total rout, with six second period goals from the USA as it completely blindsided a Slovakian team that just couldn’t keep up. Paul Stastny netted twice as a part of the USA’s best line with T.J. Oshie and Max Pacioretty — the threesome was all over the ice, wonderfully cycling the puck.
After Stastny scored the fifth US goal, the Slovakian team switched out goalies, replacing Jaroslav Halak with Peter Budaj, but the substitute fared no better as the US scored two more goals on him within the next two minutes.
From that point on, the US rode out the remainder of the second period and all of the third on their way to a 7-1 victory. This sets up an exciting showdown Saturday morning against the host nation Russia, whose team defeated Slovenia 5-2 Thursday morning.
If there was any question about the Americans’ ability to play together or to score goals, they quickly put the doubts to rest. Maple Leaf teammates Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk played well together helping to combine for a couple of goals, while non-NHL teammates Oshie of the St. Louis Blues, Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens, and Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche played together flawlessly.
If the USA is going to beat Russia Saturday morning they have to play sharp hockey through the neutral zone, minimize the shots that reach goalie Jonathon Quick, try to neutralize the always-dangerous Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin as best they can, and also take advantage of power plays. If they can do these things, plus get good offensive looks against Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov the USA can prevail against the Russians.