The United States certainly made a statement with Thursday’s 7-1 rout of Jaroslav Halak, Zdeno Chara and Slovakia, riding a six-goal second period to a win before Saturday’s pivotal clash with Russia. Several things jumped out from the US performance today:
-They’re fast. This group of wingers utilized their speed nicely on the outside and some defensemen getting involved as well, notably Kevin Shattenkirk‘s rush up the ice on one of the team’s goals. (I lost count)
-Great forechecking led to several goals in the second period for the Americans. Notably on the second and third goals.
-Great energy and production from the team’s "fourth" line of Max Pacioretty–Paul Stastny–T.J. Oshie. They were opportunistic and gives the team another element of scoring that was a question when the team was announced.
-The American defensemen showed no qualms about rushing into the play and giving the Slovak defense another threat. Defensively, it was good seeing them keep most of the play along the outside.
-The first power play for the Americans saw Kevin Shattenkirk as the lone defenseman on the five-man unit with Kesler, Pavelski, Zach Parise and Patrick Kane out there as well. The second unit, on its first run, featured Ryan Suter, Cam Fowler, Phil Kessel, JVR and Backes.
-At the Bolshoy Arena, Russia roared out to a 2-0 lead over Slovenia with goals from Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.
-Slovenia made a game of it, hanging in as best they could while under siege from the Russian attack. Slovenia goalie Robert Kristian faced 35 shots, doing the best he could with them.
–Ilya Kovalchuk‘s snipe at the end of the second period was a reminder of the utterly disgusting release he possesses, roofing a wrister from the bottom of the slot.
Saturday’s tilt between the Russians and the Americans figures to be a closely played game in the early goings, with both teams facing significantly tougher foes than they did in their opener. The prize on the line is a likely berth straight through to the quarterfinals, bypassing the potentially dangerous qualification round. The speed of the Russian forwards versus the perceived inexperience of the American defense will be a test for Team USA. Meanwhile, the Russian blue line will have its handsful containing the American’s speedy wingers and offensive-minded defenders.