USA Hockey Report Card: Americans Good Enough To Get By Slovenia

Phil KesselThe American hockey team has been one of the most intriguing stories of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Team USA finished the first part of its Olympic quest on Sunday in Sochi.

The Americans rolled to a 5-1 win over Slovenia in the final game of Group A play for the U.S. as they ended up winning the entire group with a 2-1-0-0 record (one overtime win).

While the four-goal win may look good, Sunday’s tilt with Slovenia was far from the Americans’ best showing. See how they grade out in the report card below.

Forwards
Any conversation about the American forwards against Slovenia has to start with Phil Kessel. The Toronto Maple Leafs forward was pretty dominant from his opening shift. Kessel’s first goal was a thing of beauty, and the second goal wasn’t too shabby, either. Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk continue to be the Americans’ most effective line, and that trio has been one of the best lines in the entire tournament. Blake Wheeler made the most of his increase in playing time on the fourth line. His play to set up Ryan McDonagh’s goal was incredible as Wheeler wheeled through the Slovenia defense before making a great pass to set up McDonagh. The fourth line was strong for the Americans, as they helped set up the two second-period goals. Their shift before Kessel’s third goal changed the momentum of the game and squashed any ideas of Slovenia being able to hang around for the entire game. The two teams split the 56 faceoffs after the U.S. had been great in the dot over the first two games.

Grade: B+

Defensemen
The biggest impact the American defensemen continue to have is actually on the offensive end. That continued against Slovenia, as evidenced by McDonagh’s gorgeous goal. The New York Rangers defenseman roofed a shot in the third period that pushed the lead to 4-0. Defensively, however, the first period was far from the American blue liners’ best of the tournament. Slovenia put seven shots on goal in the first period, with most of those coming after Kessel made it 2-0 within the game’s first five minutes. Slovenia played better for much of the first period, and while that’s not all the defense corps’ fault, they weren’t at their best in the opening frame. The defense got better as the game went on with a really strong second period. Ryan Suter has quietly been a workhorse. He’s averaging more than 23 minutes per game and is now a plus-3.

Grade: B

Goaltending
Ryan Miller got his first Olympic start since the gold medal game in 2010. He wasn’t tested a ton, but Miller was very effective. He stopped 17 of 18 shots. Miller was 17 seconds from earning a shutout, but allowed a goal late in the third period. There really wasn’t much he could do as Marcel Rodman ripped a shot from the right wing. Miller was especially strong in the first period when he was able to withstand the charge from the Slovenians. The fact that Miller kept Slovenia off the board allowed Team USA to get through a lackluster start and uneven play early in the game.

Grade: A

Special teams
One day after the Americans were propelled by their special teams, the penalty kill and power play were afterthoughts against Slovenia. The American penalty kill was fine, as that unit was able to kill all three penalties. It was far from dominant, however, as the Slovenians were able to generate some chances, especially on their first man-advantage. The power play wasn’t great. The first man-advantage had problems gaining entry into the zone, and when they did, they were disjointed. The special teams performance was pretty much in line with everything else in that it wasn’t great and it wasn’t horrible.

Grade: B-

Next up: Quarterfinal play Wednesday

Photo via Twitter/@Iconic_Sports

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