Team USA clearly wanted to show that it was ready for last night’s contest against Slovakia. The players gave American fans the game that they wanted to see. With the 6-1 victory Team USA moves into sole possession of first place in Group A and has some added confidence going forward.
I don’t have much to be negative about except for Martin Marincin’s cheap shot on Jason Zucker, which I already covered early this morning.
So let’s focus on the positives, and there are many:
Team USA was just altogether better against Slovakia. The U.S. allowed just one shot in the first period and held an overwhelming 57-18 shot advantage over the course of 60 minutes. Yeah… that’s right. Team USA put 57 shots on goal. Not only did they have a high quantity of shots, but the quality was better, too.
The U.S. had a bunch of chances in tight, putting the pressure on the Slovakian defense and goaltender Dominik Reicicky early. That set the stage for the rest of the game.
We got to see that speed everyone’s been talking about as well, which helped the U.S. draw penalties. There was such fluidity to the game for the U.S. It just seemed effortless at times. The players are also clearly getting much more comfortable with each other. That showed on the power play, which was very successful last night (3-for-7).
The fact that the U.S. was without two forwards, seasoned WJC veteran Jeremy Morin and center Brock Nelson, was never really an issue. Every player on the bench got to get on the ice and show what they can do.
This game was physical and the U.S. were often initiating the contact. Sometimes I wondered if Slovakia would ever get the puck back any time they turned it over thanks to a big hit or a strong play along the boards.
First off, Kyle Palmieri was an absolute force out there. He scored Team USA’s first two goals and also had an assist. I figured we would see that kind of performance out of him especially after he narrowly missed on two chances against Finland. Palmieri has 10 games in the NHL and a gold medal from last year’s tournament. He needs to be one of Team USA’s best players and I think he may end up being one of the best forwards at this tournament, period.
Palmieri’s line, including Charlie Coyle and Chris Kreider, had a huge game. I wanted to see more out of Coyle after seeing a few glimpses of his ability against Finland and boy did he ever deliver. He assisted on Palmieri’s first goal and scored a power-play tally of his own. Not only that, he was solid on draws and good all over the ice. I loved the way he played and hope this is a sign of things to come. USA GM Jim Johannson said during the broadcast that it was nice to see Coyle “gain confidence” offensively. I can only imagine what higher confidence will do to his game.
How could you not notice Chris Brown last night? I think the Slovakians are probably as sick of him as any player. He was dominant in front of the Slovakian net. He scored a goal in tight on the power play. He delivered a few thundering hits and just made himself matter in a variety of ways. He also did a great job of creating space and staying strong on the puck. Palmieri was clearly the player of the game, but I give runner-up status to Brown.
Jack Campbell also looked solid. There were a few instances in the second period where he was able to make the important saves. He gave up one goal on a bit of a broken play that I don’t think was his fault. He was just so solid. He made a key save early in the second with his blocker and another soon after the Slovakian goal, with Team USA scrambling a bit. Campbell astutely dove on the loose puck to get a much-needed whistle and settle things down after some D-zone turnovers. Less than a minute later, Drew Shore scored his goal. Campbell kept the game within his control.
By the way, Shore’s goal was FILTHY. He made the defenseman look foolish and the goaltender non-existent. He put a little exclamation point on the goal with a little fist pump as if to say, “Yep. That jut happened.” It clearly electrified Team USA (the goal, not the fist pump).
Emerson Etem scored a goal from just off the half wall that might have looked ugly, but showed why its important to get the puck to the net. It handcuffed the goalie and went in, but the fact that Etem was able to get that shot away shows some of what he is capable of. It was disappointing to hear him get booed by the Buffalo faithful, but not surprising. I think the one night of boo-birds was enough of a punishment for the 18-year-old winger. I consider the matter closed. So should you, Buffalo.
All three centers performed wonderfully in the absence of Brock Nelson. The extra ice time really benefited Coyle, Shore and Nick Bjugstad. Those guys just continued to show improvement throughout and were able to make any line combo work.
While the offense will get a lot of the credit, the defensemen had a very solid game. I really liked the way Justin Faulk played, despite a few instances of maybe being a little too careless with the puck. Even when he was careless, he calmly regained control. Great stick and great strength from him. I also thought Brian Dumoulin had a solid effort and brought some of the physicality I was hoping to see. Team USA captain John Ramage also had a pretty nice night making heady plays and getting the puck up ice.
Moral of the story for future opponents of Team USA: If you can’t stop the bleeding early, it’s going to be a long night. When it rains, it pours and it poured hard on Slovakia last night.
Team USA was relentless from the word go. This is a game the U.S. should have won and did. While the win builds confidence, it shouldn’t breed cockiness. A tough road still lies ahead and its important to take this tournament one game at a time.
A look ahead:
As of writing this post, there was no news on the status of Jason Zucker after the dirty hit from Marincin. The Las Vegas native was having a good game and playing very physically before going down. Should he be out for any amount of time, it’s just another hole caused by injuries that will force players to step up as they did tonight. A day off will hopefully help give the medical staff time to work with Zucker and see how he’s feeling. There is some good news however, as Mike Morreale reported on NHL.com:
Palmieri seemed optimistic that Morin and Nelson would practice for the first time in three days Wednesday.
“They’re feeling better by the day and (Tuesday) was just one of those days where we wanted to give them rest,” he said. “Coming into (Wednesday’s) practice, they’ll both be on the ice and we’ll go from there.”
If Jeremy Morin and Brock Nelson are able to return, it will give this U.S. team a nice boost and will take some of the pressure off of guys like Palmieri. To have those added threats is only going to make Team USA better. Still, their ability to practice tomorrow does not guarantee their availability for Thursday night’s Germany game, but it is a step in the right direction. Should Morin, Nelson and/or Zucker be unavailable, it makes things interesting, but we’ll all just have to wait and see how it plays out.
In other news: The U.S. National Under-17 Team earned a 4-0 shutout win over Team Canada West in its exhibition game in preparation for the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, which I previewed yesterday. Team USA got goals from Connor Carrick in the second period, and Kyle Osterberg, Miles Koules and Frankie Vatrano (who also had an assist) in the third. Jared Rutledge and Collin Olson each made nine saves to split the shutout. The U.S. out shot Team West (players from Manitoba and Saskatchewan) 42-18. The U.S. is the defending champion at that event. We’ll continue to keep tabs on the tournament throughout this week and next.