Perfect start for Team USA


SOCHI, Russia -- If U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma had written down a list of things he hoped in his wildest dreams might take place during his team's first Olympic game against Slovakia, let's put it this way: He'd be fresh out of check marks.

Balanced scoring? Check.

Youthful defense showing no jitters? Check.

Solid goaltending? Check.

Dominating work in the faceoff circle? Check.

Staying out of the penalty box? Check.

Up-tempo pace that kept the Slovaks on their heels from the get-go? Check.

A six-goal second period en route to a 7-1 thrashing to start the tournament? Check.

Or should that be CHECK?

OK, maybe not even in Bylsma's wildest dreams did he imagine his squad would pour half a dozen pucks past the Slovaks in a little more than a 14-minute span in the second period.

"There's always a lot of nerves and anxiousness to start these tournaments," U.S. captain Zach Parise said. "I think for us to come out most importantly with a win but a pretty convincing win, it makes you feel good."

What with Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky missing the tournament with injuries, the Slovaks figured to be a lesser team than the one that threw a mighty scare into Canada in the semifinals and then lost in the bronze-medal game four years ago in Vancouver.

But this much lesser? Never.

Now, you can quibble over whether a game like this says as much about the decline of Slovak hockey as it does about American prowess, but what you can't quibble with was the workmanlike effort by the U.S. that delivered the blowout.

In building this team, GM David Poile and his selection committee wanted this team's identity to be a blend of high hockey IQ, speed and toughness. All of those elements were in full bloom Thursday afternoon.

Having taken a 1-0 lead into the second period on a blast by Washington defenseman John Carlson, the Americans gave up a quick goal to Tomas Tatar of the Detroit Red Wings just 24 seconds into the middle frame.

It was a snap shot that netminder Jonathan Quick probably should have corralled.

But instead of setting, the U.S. squad never missed a beat, especially given that the Slovakian goal could have thrown off a group of very young, inexperienced (at least Olympic-wise) blueliners.

The U.S. regained the lead just 1:02 after the Tatar goal on a wicked shot by Ryan Kesler off a nice feed from Patrick Kane.

Just 1:06 after that, it was Paul Stastny with the first of two, and the die was cast.

"A lot of guys just played with a lot of confidence," Parise said. "Guys, like you mentioned, the guys that it was their first time, they played with a lot of poise, a lot of patience with the puck. Made great plays all over the ice. It just didn't feel like they were playing with too many nerves. It was really good."

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was one of those young players experiencing their first Olympic moments for Team USA, but he was solid, logging 19:14 in ice time and picking up an assist on Stastny's second goal.

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