Takeaways from a dominant U.S. win
SOCHI, Russia -- Five thoughts from Team USA's dominant 7-1 win over Slovakia:
1. Kane-Kesler killing it: Yes, Phil Kessel led the Americans in their dismantling of Slovakia on a goal and two assists, including a nice drop pass to set up the game's first goal by John Carlson. But the guy who was most impressive in the surprising blowout win was Patrick Kane. His handling of the puck on the wider ice in Sochi was a treat to see, and coach Dan Bylsma clearly is sold on the Kane-Ryan Kesler duo as a keeper. The two finished the 2010 Vancouver Olympics playing together, and they picked up where they left off, enjoying a dynamic game Thursday.
Kane had two assists, and Kesler and Dustin Brown each had a goal. If both of Team USA's big lines keep rolling, it will put a lot of pressure on the Russian defense Saturday. But keep your eye on Kane, who could be adding to his already impressive hockey résumé.
2. Stastny kicks it down: Great start for Paul Stastny, who had two goals against the country in which both of his parents were born. "It's always special. I always know family back home is watching. Both of my parents are Slovakian, my grandparents speak it. It's the culture I grew up in," said Stastny, whose father is Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, at one point the head of Slovak hockey. "To me, I've never beaten these guys. It was nice to get it on my third try, on the most important stage," Stastny added.
The Colorado Avalanche center is a great story. Although he was a part of Team USA four years ago, he did not have a great tournament, and his play at the NHL level has been on a bit of a decline. It's reasonable to say that if this team had been picked last April, he likely would not have been on it. But he was terrific for the U.S. at the world championships last spring, leading the Americans to a surprise bronze medal, and his strong play continued into the regular season with an Avs team that has been one of the feel-good stories. Stastny is hoping there are more feel-good moments for him in the coming days in Sochi.
3. Quick in command: It never hurts to ask (not that Bylsma was going to answer). The U.S. coach would not tip his hand on who will start in goal Saturday against Russia in a preliminary-round marquee matchup. Jonathan Quick got the nod in Thursday's thumping of the Slovaks, and while he probably should have handled Tomas Tatar's long snap shot in the first minute of the second period that tied the game briefly at 1-1, he looked sharp in stopping the 22 other shots. In short, Quick did nothing to suggest he hasn't earned a second straight start for the U.S.
Would it be a complete shock if Bylsma went to Ryan Miller for the Russia assignment? No. The veteran goalie is the reigning Olympic MVP. But that was four years ago. And just as 2010 coach Ron Wilson started Miller and rode him to within a goal of a gold medal (minus 12 minutes Tim Thomas played in a mop-up role over the Finns in the semifinals), we figure Quick has earned the keys to the U.S. Olympic machine, at least for the next 60 minutes of Olympic hockey or so.
4. Spreading it around: Apart from Blake Wheeler, the Americans' 13th forward who played just 4:10 spread over five shifts, the U.S. ice time was remarkably evenly doled out by Bylsma and the coaching staff. Even seventh defenseman Brooks Orpik logged a respectable 10:51. Ryan Suter and Paul Martin, the team's top defensive pair, led all players with an identical 19:46 in ice time, but anyone familiar with Suter -- who leads all NHL defensemen with an average of 29:49 a night -- knows Thursday's allotment was just a taste of what he's used to. If Bylsma can keep that kind of even split going into the elimination part of the tournament, that will keep key players fresh.
Speaking of ice time, it was curious to see Slovak captain Zdeno Chara manage just 18:01, fourth on the Slovakian team. Yes, fourth. Maybe coach Vladimir Vujtek is saving the Bruins' captain for later in the proceedings, although that might not be a wise strategy.
5. Captains' calvary: We don't have a name for them yet, but there's no doubt which of the U.S. forward lines will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting -- it's the one with Team USA captain Zach Parise, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, and New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. The three hard-nosed players -- particularly Backes -- were involved in some of the game's biggest collisions and helped neutralize the Slovaks' top line featuring Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa. Hossa had an assist on the lone Slovak goal, but finished the day with just one shot.