The United States men’s hockey team lost 2-1 to Team Slovakia in Vancouver in 2010, but they avenged that loss in a big way on Thursday, scoring six second period goals en route to an easy 7-1 victory in the opening game of Pool A play.
Paul Stastny scored twice for the Americans, while Phil Kessel had a goal and two assists in the winning effort. Jonathan Quick, a surprise starter over last year’s star Ryan Miller, made 21 saves in a solid Olympic debut effort.
The game got off to a fairly even start, with Slovakia playing a very aggressive forechecking game whenever the puck was in their defensive zone. Unfortunately for them, that happened a lot in the early going, and the Americans picked up a slew of opportunities thanks to their team speed and precise passing. An early power play for the US went by the wayside though, and the game remained scoreless.
Later in the first period, the US took advantage of a bad dump-in attempt by the Slovaks, and they scored the first goal of the game as a result. On a 3-on-2 rush, Kessel drove across the blue line, and then flipped a pass back toward the point. Defenseman John Carlson grabbed the puck and blasted a shot past Jaroslav Halak, and with a little over five minutes remaining in the first period the Americans took a 1-0 lead.
The US held that lead through the end of the first period, but the Slovakian side quickly tied things up as the second period got underway. Marian Hossa collected the puck off the glass on a failed clearing attempt by Ryan Suter, and after he brought it into the zone, he found a streaking Tomas Tatar with a great saucer pass. Tatar did a quick deke with the puck and then fired it past Quick to tie things up at 1-1 just 24 seconds into the frame.
The Americans were quick to get revenge, however. Patrick Kane grabbed the puck along the boards after defenseman Ryan McDonough made a nice play to fire it around the boards. Kane then found Ryan Kesler in the middle of the ice, who took advantage of a Dustin Brown screen and buried a one-time slap shot over Halak to give the US the lead back at 2-1.
A short time later, the US scored again. This time it was Ryan Callahan making the nice defensive play along the boards, stealing the puck in the offensive zone and feeding it across the ice to Max Pacioretty. His shot was stopped by Halak, but Stastny was there to clean up the mess as he flipped the puck into the empty net to make the score 3-1.
The Americans got another power play, and just as it ended, they got back on the board. Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, teammates with the Toronto Maple Leafs and linemates with the US, both crashed the net and were pounding away at a loose puck near the crease. After a shot attempt was stopped by Halak’s blocker, David Backes was there to whack it out of midair and into the net, pushing the American advantage to three goals.
Reaching deeper into their bag of tricks, the US side used a great transition play to take a 5-1 lead. After a couple of nice saves by Quick, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk drove the puck up the ice, and feathered a tremendous saucer pass onto the stick of Stastny. He popped the puck past Halak, chasing him from the game and putting an exclamation mark on his own day.
The Kessel-Van Riemsdyk combination came back out in force just a few moments later as the US struck again. Suter fired a gorgeous pass all the way up the ice to Kesler, who gathered it at the point and made a nice back-pass to van Riemsdyk. His wrist shot looked like it was going to get into the net on its own, but Kessel got a stick on it and set off the goal horn again.
The US wrapped up their scoring about a minute after that goal, with Kane facilitating again. After circling all the way around the zone, he found Carlson along the boards. He fired in a pass to the middle of the ice, and Brown was there to tap the puck into the net to make it a 7-1 game.
The pace tightened up a bit in the third period as the US was content to play keepaway, and despite some good chances by Tatar and Hossa, the Slovaks weren’t able to close the gap at all, and they ended up dropping a 7-1 decision.
Up next for the Americans are the host Russians, as the two sides will battle at 6:30am Central on Saturday morning. The Slovakian side will take on Slovenia that same morning, playing at 2am Central time on MSNBC.