It only took the United States men’s hockey team a little more than a period to find its game in the 2014 Winter Olympics. After that, the Americans showed just how good they can be in this year’s tournament.
Team USA put on an absolute clinic Thursday in Sochi, steamrolling a seemingly hapless Slovakian team 7-1 in the tournament opener for both clubs.
Head coach Dan Bylsma and the rest of the USA Hockey staff had plenty to be happy about following the obviously dominant debut. While a six-goal win might indicate that the Americans didn’t have to battle much adversity, the U.S. certainly responded well to a wake-up call early in the second period.
The Slovaks tied the game at 1 on Tomas Tatar’s goal just 24 seconds into the second period. Ryan Suter’s clearing attempt appeared to be kept in by Marian Hossa, who eventually fed Tatar for the game-tying goal. Replays showed, however, that the Slovaks were offside right in front of a linesman. The apparent infraction went uncalled.
That’s all it took to wake the sleeping giant. The Americans responded just 62 seconds later when Ryan Kesler blasted one by Jaroslav Halak. A minute and 6 seconds after that, Paul Stastny gave Team USA the 3-1 lead. By the end of a six-goal second period, the Americans held the 7-1 lead that would prove to be the final score.
The picking apart illustrated how good the Americans can be in this tournament if they play to their potential. All of their strengths were on display, from incredible team speed to depth up front and down the middle to strong goaltending.
The team’s overall depth and ability to chip in offensively might have been the most impressive aspect of the win. Eleven of the 20 American skaters registered at least a point, and seven of those players had multipoint games. Only four Team USA skaters weren’t on the ice for any of the seven goals, and one of those players was Blake Wheeler, who saw only 4:10 of ice time in the win.
The Americans didn’t just turn in a dominant offensive showing — they also locked down the Slovaks. That was thanks in large part to dominating the puck possession battle. The Americans won 37 of 55 faceoffs, with Kesler and Joe Pavelski combining to win 23 of their 26 draws. Team USA also displayed a solid compete level. Kesler hustled back into the offensive zone to break up a Slovakian shorthanded chance, and Ryan McDonagh won a memorable puck battle against Hossa in the American end in the third period with the game already out of reach.
The stingy defensive effort was spearheaded by goalie Jonathan Quick. The Los Angeles Kings netminder is one of the best big-game goalies in the NHL, and that was on display during his Olympic debut. The UMass product stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced, including a handful of important ones in the first and second periods.
The Americans certainly will get much tougher tests moving forward. Team USA has a day off to get ready for a loaded Russia team that will present a much more difficult challenge. Through one game, however, it’s tough not to be optimistic about the Americans’ chances to contend for a medal.
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