Haggerty breaks down USA's 7-1 win over Slovakia

Haggerty breaks down USA's 7-1 win over Slovakia
February 13, 2014, 10:15 am
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Team USA put a hurting on Zdeno Chara and the Slovakians in their first Olympic contest of the Sochi games, 7-1. Here's how we saw things break down.

GOLD STAR: Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk were noticeable right from the start for Team USA, and Kessel followed through with a dominant effort against an overwhelmed Slovakian team. Kessel slid the slick drop pass to John Carlson for USA’s first goal of the game, was one of three wild dogs -- along with JVR and Ryan Kesler -- relentlessly chasing the puck in front of the net while turning the game into a blowout in the second period. Kessel capped it all off with a goal during the runaway second period, and he led Team USA with four shots on net helping contribute to the game being won in the first couple of periods with his fast-paced, frenetic style. Team USA will need dominance from Kessel if they want to medal. He and the team were off to a good start after the first game.
BLACK EYE: This could go to one of several players for a Slovakia team that was overwhelmed by the USA, but former Bruins defenseman Milan Jurcina might have been poster boy for Slovakia’s problems. He’s just not fast enough to keep up with USA, and not physical enough to slow down their attack as he racked up a minus-4 rating during 13:43 of ice time in the loss. Jurcina was a decent player in the NHL for the Bruins and Washington, but he’s out of the league because he isn't fast enough to keep up with the action.That fact was made more apparent when he couldn’t keep up, or maul, the Americans in the defensive zone. Tomas Surovy and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Martin Marincin also finished a minus-4 for Slovakia.
TURNING POINT: Team USA only out-shot the Slovakians 16-13 in the second period, but the Americans outscored Slovakia by a 6-1 score in the middle 20 minutes while bouncing Jaroslav Halak out of the game. The goal that really broke the spirit of Slovakia seemed to be the third effort score after a power play expired as James van Riemsdyk kept a play alive shooting from his knees, and Ryan Kesler finally beat Zdeno Chara to a loose puck in front of the net. That kind of dogged fury from USA really signaled to Slovakia that they had no shot without Lubomir Visnovsky and Marian Gaborik today.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ryan Kesler had two points (goal and an assist), three shots on net, a plus-4 and great two-way play while winning 11-of-13 face-offs through two periods. He also scored that third-effort goal in front while busting through the Slovakia defense in the second period. It was very clear early on that Team USA had a distinct advantage over Slovakia right down the middle of the lineup and had a major speed advantage as well. Kesler helped USA take major advantage of that, and didn’t make many mistakes throughout the 60-minute effort. Kesler also drew a penalty around the Slovakia net, something that Team USA will need from him as the margin between teams gets slimmer.
BRUINS BY THE NUMBERS: Zdeno Chara played even hockey in 18:01 of ice time in a game his team lost by a 7-1 score, so that should give you an idea of how effective he was against the Americans. The good news: Chara really was able to keep his minutes down for the most part, and didn’t play many taxing shifts aside from one in the second period where he traded stick-work with David Backes all over the defensive zone. It ended with Backes pitch-forking Chara, and the 6-foot-9 defenseman tripping up Backes to cause a whistle against USA for being offside. Chara finished fourth among Slovak players in ice time, and that’s a stat the Bruins could deal with if it lasts through the tournament. It also appeared that Chara might be able to get some rest as Slovakia doesn’t look primed for a long run in the medal round.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s a little more work to get around, but there’s also a lot more room when you have the puck out there. So it really balances itself out. It’s a different game, but it’s really enjoyable out there.” – David Backes, to NBCN on the big Olympic ice surface.