scored twice as Team USA launched an offensive onslaught in the first two periods. (AP)
By Allan Muir
Final Score: Team USA 7 Slovakia 1
Team USA scored on four consecutive shots in the second period on the way to a 7-1 win over Slovakia in the opener for both teams at the Sochi Games. The Americans took advantage of a passive Slovak defense, breaking down their trap by getting pucks deep, winning board battles and dominating on the cycle to create a series of high-end scoring chances.
The Americans, who never tallied more than six goals on the way to a silver medal in Vancouver in 2010, got scoring from all four lines and a 22-save performance from Jonathan Quick who was beaten only after the officials missed a clear off-side call that should have killed the play that led to Tomas Tatar's early second-period goal.
Team USA next faces fellow gold-medal favorites Russia on Saturday.
9:47 Who starts against Russia? Has to be Quick. Wasn't a factor in this one, but didn't do anything to suggest he's not up to that task, either.
9:45 Phil Kessel was the best player on the ice all night. Led Team USA with a 1-2-3 line. Six Americans chipped in with two points each: Carlson, Kane, Oshie, Stastny, van Riemsdyk, Kesler. Bylsma has to be thrilled to see not just the output, but the balance from his offense. It won't be that easy against the Russians, but with so many guys getting a taste in this one, they'll be confident going into that test.
9:43 Ryan Suter and Paul Martin led the Americans with 19:43 of ice. Brooks Orpik just 10:15, but finished with a plus-3 rating.
9:39 And that's it, final score 7-1. Two hours of total dominance in every facet of the game by Team USA. Shots on net, 33-23 for the Americans. Chances, 16-6.
9:37 Tatar showing some slick hands down low but what is he thinking dropping the puck to Chara when he's five feet away from the net??? Have to put that one on Quick and take your chances with the rebound.
9:35 Three minutes left in this one.
9:31: Bylsma should be happy with the consistent defensive commitment of his forwards in this one. It's natural to ease up in a blow out like this, but they've been religious in getting back hard to the zone. Their F3 is beating the second Slovak forward every shift.
9:27 Biggest surprise in this one (well, outside of the score): a really middling effort from Zdeno Chara. Hasn't been bad--he hasn't been scored on--but he's looked a step slow all night and hasn't been able to dominate physically the way he does with the Bruins.
9:25 Stastny comes in one-on-one with a chance for the hat trick...denied by Budaj. It only feels like that's the first time he's done that today.
9:23 Quick makes a nice stop on a re-direct down low. First real challenging stop of the day. Can't complain when your goalie doesn't get tested, but if Dan Bylsma was hoping to learn anything from today's game about who his keeper will be moving forward, well that won't happen.
9:19 Four Slovaks, including Chara, down below the hash marks in the American zone. Think that's the first time that's happened all day.
9:17 Shots officially 27-20 for Team USA early in the third, but that count seems generous to the Slovaks.
9:15 Slovakia decides to try controlling the puck for a change, Team USA doing a great job controlling the middle of the ice in front of Quick, keeping the Slovaks to the outside.
9:11 Third period is underway and both sides are back at full strength.
8:55 And that's the end of two. 7-1 Team USA in a laugher. Kessel and Pacioretty lead with four shots each.
8:53 Slovaks go to the power play. Kessel with a lazy slash at 18:50 of the second. Interesting to watch Chara on this one. Rarely enough time on NHL power plays for him to wind up and let one of those 108 MPH slap shots go. More space on the big ice might mean more chances for him to let the hammer drop.
8:51 Slovaks finally throw one to the net. No test for Quick, but at least he got a touch to remind everyone he's still awake down there.
8:47 TEAM USA goal! Kane to Carlson to Brown alone in front to make it 7-1. Six consecutive goals for the Americans after the Slovaks tied it up in the period's opening minute. Jurcina with another free pass on that one, letting Brown drift by him in the slot.
8:44 TEAM USA goal! First shot Budaj faces is in the net. James van Riemsdyk throws it at the net, Phil Kessel deflects it in. If you've ever wondered by Milan Jurcina is no longer in the NHL, it's because of soft defensive coverage like that.
8:41 TEAM USA goal! Paul Stastny makes it 5-1. That's four goals on four consecutive shots. Shattenkirk carries it deep into the Slovak zone, makes a cross-ice pass through the crease right onto Stastny's tape. No real chance for Halak on that one, but he gets the early shower after that one. Montreal's Peter Budaj now in net for the shell-shocked Slovaks. Tough night for Halak, who isn't playing just for Slovakia but to prove he's worthy of carrying the St. Louis Blues into the playoffs. After this one, St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong might want to keep Buffalo's Tim Murray on speed dial.
8:36 Shots are 24-7, which pretty much captures the story of this one. Slovaks seem content to let the Americans control the puck. Looks like they're more interested in keeping the margin of defeat down with goal differential in mind rather than taking any risks to try to tighten the gap.
8:33 TEAM USA goal! Power play had just ended. Not sure who gets this one. Kessel had about three swipes at it, JVR and Backes both swinging away in a crowd out front. No chance for Halak. Just announced it as a Backes goal in the arena, but not sure about that call. Either way, it's 4-1 Team USA approaching the midway point of the period.
8:29 Vydareny to the box for tripping at 6:10 of the second. Team USA back to the power play. Slovaks starting to wilt under the pressure of the American forecheck.
8:25 Ziga Jeglic just became a national hero in Slovenia, scoring that country's first Olympic goal to cut the Russian lead to 2-1 in the other morning game. Beast mode goal.
8:23 TEAM USA GOAL! Stastny buries it on a second chance opportunity. Oshie steals the puck at the blueline, sets up Pacioretty for a chance down low that Halak blocks but he slides wide making the stop, leaving the net wide open for Stastny to stuff it home at 2:32 of the second. It's 3-1 Team USA.
8:21: TEAM USA GOAL! And there's the response you want to see from Team USA. Dump the puck in at the blueline, Patrick Kane wins a board battle, finds Kesler in the slot who tees it up and beats Halak 1:26 into the second. America regains the lead, 2-1.
8:19 SLOVAKIA GOAL! Detroit's Tomas Tatar wrists one from the left circle that beats Quick short side. Play looked like it was offside by a foot, but the officials somehow missed it. Suter cleared the zone, Marian Hossa chipped it back in while Tatar was deep in the zone. Brutal.
8:19 And we're underway in the second.
8:15 Shocked to see Chara played only 5:44 in the first. Felt like he never left the ice. Kessel probably felt that way, too. Slovakia dressed eight defensemen, but they'll shorten their bench at some point in the second. Shattenkirk led all players with 7:43 in the first.
8:13 It's 2-0 Russia over Slovenia in the other morning action. Probably a moral victory for the Slovenians that it's not 5-0. Finland beat Austria 8-4 in the first action of the day. Teemu Selanne hurt in that one, but no word yet on the severity of the injury.
8:10 Despite the dominance of the Americans, I'm thinking Slovakia is pleased with their efforts. Did a nice job overall limiting Team USA on their zone entries, forcing them to play dump and chase rather than entering with speed and possession. Won their share of 50/50 battles along the walls and limited the number of clean looks the American shooters had.
8:05 Phil Kessel looked All-World in the first. Absolutely flying out there.
8:03 And that's the end of one. 1-0, Team USA. Nearly perfect period for the Americans. Shots were 11-4, chances were 6-1.
8:00 Three minutes left in the first, still 1-0 Team USA. Americans doing pretty much what they want, controlling play, dominating the middle of the ice.
7:58 Amazing chance for Richard Panik. All alone in the slot, can't quite get the handle on it. Think that was Ryan McDonagh who bailed on his man and chased the puck there. Bullet dodged for Team USA.
7:57 Can't wait to see the Time On Ice charts for this one. Seems like Zdeno Chara hasn't left the ice.
7:55: TEAM USA GOAL! John Carlson. Kessel gets the zone, drives deep into the right dot, drops the puck to the trailing defender who blasts it far side high over Halak.
7:52 Pace in this game is fantastic. Already 14 minutes into the first, still no score between Team USA and Slovakia.
7:51 Terrific chance in the slot for Paul Martin. All alone, fires it just wide.
7:50 Slovak penalty kill much harder on the puck than they are at full strength. Did a nice job keeping Team USA to the outside. No real good looks. Back to full strength.
7:47 First Team USA PP unit: Kane, Kesler, Parise, Pavelski and Shattenkirk.
7:46 First penalty of the game coming up. Going against Slovakia, 9:59 into the first. It's Marcinko for interference.
7:44 And now Malkin gets in the act in the other morning game. 2-0 for Russia over Slovenia.
7:41 Chara and Sekera being deployed against the Pavelski, Kessel, JVR line.
7:40 In the other morning game, Alex Ovechkin blows the roof off the rink with a screaming wrister. 1-0 Russia.
7:38 Looks like the Slovaks will be happy playing a very passive defensive scheme. No real forecheck to speak of. Great advantage for young American defensemen--five in their first Olympics. No pressure on the puck will give them that extra beat to make the play they want.
7:37: Quick gets his first touch. Easy stop on Marcinko wrister.
7:36 First chance of the game, Pavelski to Kessel in tight, Halak with the stop.
7:35 Jaroslav Halak gets the start for the Slovaks.
7:35 We're ready for puck drop in Sochi.
7:34 Jonathan Quick gets the start in net.
7:30 Team USA lines tonight in Sochi: Kane-Brown-Kesler, Parise-Backes-Callahan, Van Riemsdyk-Pavelski-Kessel, Pacioretty-Stastny-Oshie.
7:30 Scratches: Stepan, Faulk, Howard.
PREVIEW: USA vs. Slovakia