SOCHI, RUSSIA – Upon arriving here for the Olympics, members of Team USA men’s hockey team talked at length about the challenge of establishing chemistry, adjusting to new roles and getting acclimated to a larger rink in such a short period of time.
All of those areas certainly are important if the team hopes to contend for a gold medal again after finishing runner-up in Vancouver four years ago.
Or it can just score goals in such rapid-fire succession that nothing else seems to matter.
Team USA followed that script and looked relaxed and comfortable on the Olympic stage in a 7-1 laugher over Slovakia at Shayba Arena.
“I don’t think we expected it to be that kind of game, but we kept scoring goals,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s fun to watch and fun to be part of, too. Good start for the team.”
Good start? That’s putting it mildly. The Americans scored six unanswered goals in the second period, a relentless attack that felt as if it might never end.
And now comes the real fun. While Slovakia offered little resistance, Team USA will encounter an entirely different challenge Saturday when it faces Olympic host Russia in its second game. The U.S. won’t see many friendly faces in the crowd that night.
“We think it’s special to play the host city,” Team USA forward Dustin Brown said. “We had an opportunity to play Canada in Vancouver in 2010. Those are the type of games you want to be in. You want to play the host team. It’s obviously going to be a tough match. But it’s a tough, fun game to play in because of the atmosphere and excitement around the arena.”
The U.S. turned the opener into a yawner by sprinting away from Slovakia like Usain Bolt. Team USA scored three goals in less than seven minutes after Slovakia tied the score at 1-1 on Tomas Tatar’s goal 24 seconds into the period.
The U.S. chased starting goalie Jaroslav Halak from the game after making it 5-1. He was replaced by Peter Budaj, who promptly gave up two more goals.
“We just kept driving the net, creating chances,” said Paul Stastny, who led the charge with two goals.
In all, six Americans scored goals and 11 recorded at least one point. (The Wild’s duo of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter did not collect a point or register a shot on goal.)
“The best part about today is that everyone had a hand in it,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “You like to see that start. A lot of different guys were clicking.”
In what could prove to be a sign of Team USA’s depth, the fourth line of Stastny, Max Pacioretty and T.J. Oshie was the best line all game. That trio contributed two goals, three assists and seven shots.
“Not only did they find themselves on the score sheet, but I think every time over the boards they made something happen positively,” Team USA coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s the kind of depth throughout your lineup that you need to have.”
Especially as the level of competition increases. The U.S. also will need solid goaltending. Jonathan Quick got the nod over Ryan Miller in the first game and stopped 22 of 23 shots but wasn’t really tested. Bylsma declined to name his starting goalie for the Russia game.