International Ice Hockey Federation

U.S. dominates Slovakia

Halak pulled as Stastny and Kessel go wild

Published 18.02.2014 23:41 GMT+4 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
U.S. dominates Slovakia
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: USA's John Carlson #4 celebrates a first period goal with Ryan Kesler #17 and James van Riemsdyk #21 during men's preliminary round action against Slovakia at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/HHOF-IIHF Images)
With a six-goal second-period explosion, the U.S. opened its bid for gold in Sochi with an impressive 7-1 victory over Slovakia at Shayba Arena on Thursday.

Paul Stastny, the American-born son of Slovak hockey legend Peter Stastny, scored twice for the Americans, while Phil Kessel had a goal and two assists.

"It’s always special playing against Slovakia," said Stastny. "I always know family back home is watching, and my parents always watch no matter what. I’ve never beaten these guys, so it was nice to get it on my third try on the most important stage."

John Carlson and Ryan Kesler both had a goal and an assist, and David Backes and Dustin Brown also scored for the Americans. James van Riemsdyk, T.J. Oshie, and Patrick Kane added a pair of assists apiece.

"It’s our first game at the Olympics and I certainly liked how we played this game," said U.S. coach Dan Bylsma. "We responded when they scored and came with six unanswered goals. The line of Paul Stastny, T.J. Oshie and Max Pacioretty did not only find their way on the scoresheet, they did positive work in general. They were possibly our strongest line tonight."

"I don’t think any one of us was thinking we were going to blow them out like we did," said Brown. "We all expected it to be more of a grinding, hard style of game, and sometimes it doesn’t go that way."

Tomas Tatar replied for Slovakia. Starting netminder Jaroslav Halak was yanked in favour of Peter Budaj just after the halfway mark.

It was anything but the statement the Slovaks wanted to make as they enter this competition with hopes of capturing their first Olympic medal. This was the most lopsided Slovak loss to the Americans in senior IIHF history.

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Goalie Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings made a winning international debut for the Americans. The 28-year-old was on the roster for the 2010 Olympic silver medal-winning team, but saw no action in Vancouver.

The Americans entered the game as favourites with 13 players returning from the 2010 squad.

"I think from the guys we have returning, we’re all better players," said Parise. "In Vancouver we were just young and excited, just playing on adrenalin the whole time. This time I think we know what to expect in these games."

Slovakia, whose last IIHF medal was a World Championship silver in 2012, has struggled to replenish its national team roster after no longer having such veteran talents as Pavol Demitra and Zigmund Palffy. They also lost sniper Marian Gaborik and power play quarterback Lubomir Visnovsky to injuries before the Games.

"Obviously we would be a better team with these guys, but injuries do happen and it’s tough to replace guys of that caliber," said Slovak captain Zdeno Chara. "[We didn't lose] because of that. We lost coverage and people around the net, and they scored a lot of goals."

Next up, the Americans go head-to-head with host Russia on Saturday, while Slovakia faces Slovenia that day.

"Any time you play a host country that’s such a powerhouse, with such dedication and such passionate fans, this is their most important tournament," said Stastny. "We did this against Canada and now we get to play Russia at home. You’ve just got to go with it. It’ll be an exciting time, and we’ll see where we stack up against one of the favourites."

There was a high tempo in this game from the get-go.

The Americans drew first blood with 5:33 left in the first period. Phil Kessel zipped in over the Slovak blueline and left a lovely drop pass for Carlson, who hammered a rising drive from the hash marks inside Halak’s right post.

It was the first career Olympic goal for Carlson, a 24-year-old Washington Capitals defenceman, who notched the overtime winner against host Canada at the 2010 World Juniors in Saskatchewan.

"It was obviously a nice way to start your first Olympics," said Carlson.

Just 24 seconds into the middle frame, the Slovaks struck to tie it up. Marian Hossa intercepted the puck at the U.S. blue line and laid a deft cross-ice pass on the stick of Tatar, who circled and lasered home a high shot.

The American response was quick and decisive. First, Patrick Kane stickhandled in the Slovak zone and fed Kesler for a one-timer from the right faceoff circle that beat Halak on the stick stick.

At 2:32, the Americans jumped into a 3-1 lead. Oshie came off the right side and centered it to an oncoming Pacioretty. Halak stopped his shot but had to slide over, and that left the rebound for Stastny to pop into the gaping cage.

At 8:16, the Americans went up 4-1 when Backes whacked in a loose puck during a goalmouth scramble.

The U.S. continued to carry the play as the game wore on. At the midpoint, Slovakia was getting outshot 24-7 and rarely getting the puck out of its own zone.

Scoring in bunches was an American habit in this game.

Stastny got his second of the game when he went to the net to convert a nice centering pass from Kevin Shattenkirk at 13:30 of the second. At that point, Slovak head coach Vladimir Vujtek had seen enough, pulling Halak in favour of Budaj.

Less than a minute later, Van Riemsdyk set up Kessel at the edge of the crease on the rush to make it 6-1. And less than a minute after that, Carlson, in the corner, found Dustin Brown coming in, and he whipped one past a helpless Budaj from the slot for a 7-1 lead.

"We just capitalized on the chances we had," said Parise.

If there was a mercy rule in international hockey, now would have been the time to invoke it. Thankfully for Slovakia, the third period was scoreless.

Slovak forward Tomas Marcinko suffered a knee injury and will be evaluated by doctors.

For the U.S., Olympic success overseas has been hard to find. Its last gold medal came in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” on home ice in Lake Placid. At the last two “NHL Olympics” outside of North America, it finished eighth (2006) and sixth (1998).

Perhaps that trend is changing. This was the first time the United States defeated another “Big Seven” nation in Olympic play outside North America since a 4-1 win over Finland in Albertville 1992.

In the two previous Olympic encounters between these two sides, Slovakia earned a 3-3 tie in Lillehammer 1994 and won 2-1 in Turin 2006.