Phil Kessel scored three goals on Sunday in Sochi, but he would only need two of those to decide an ultimately one-sided win for the United States against Slovenia. Kessel, who upped his goal scoring number for this Olympics to four, and his point scoring total to seven with three assists, had two goals in the first period and finalized his hat trick about mid-way through the second period.
Kessel came out flying about 1:20 in, making an excellent move to open up some space and sliding the puck past Slovenian goalie Luka Gracnar. About three minutes later, with the USA leading 1-0, Kessel received a pass in the air from Joe Pavelski, swatting it in to double the USA lead. Though that would ultimately be enough, for a while it looked like it was all that they would get.
Following the second goal for the USA, Slovenia settled down and really got into the game, getting some shots away at goalie Ryan Miller, who in turn, made some good saves. Slovenia also did a good job of closing down space for the USA and created a few turnovers. Despite their hard work, Miller kept the door closed as he waited for the USA skaters to get back into the game (their sloppy play really peaked in the second period on a USA power play, when they not only failed to get a shot on goal, but gave the Slovenian’s a scoring opportunity as well).
Kessel would come in to change the momentum with his third goal, a tap in near the side of the net. With the USA moving well again, Ryan McDonagh would blast home a shot to make it 4-0 72 seconds later. Early in the third period, David Backes put the icing on the cake with a fifth goal. All these goals mean something for the USA as the third tie breaker for determining seeding for the knockout rounds is goal differential (after total points and head to head). The goal differential took a slight dip when Slovenia nicked one back with 17 seconds to go, but the USA skated off with a + 10 goal differential, which is the best in the Olympic tournament.
No teams get eliminated after the group play so Slovenia remains in the tournament, however, their star Anze Kopitar left the game near the end of the second period. According to his father and the head coach of the Slovenian team, Katjaz Kopitar, he was not feeling well.
USA’s head coach, Dan Bylsma, was able to give some players a rest today, including goalie Jonathon Quick, who was ably replaced by Miller in net and Jimmy Howard on the bench, and Max Pacioretty was replaced by Derek Stephan. Sunday’s win means that the USA will not have to play again until Wednesday in the quarter finals. After a very long week which included NHL play, travel, practice, and Olympic competition, the earned bye is a welcome opportunity to give all of the players a rest before the knockout rounds begin.