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World Championship Day 1: USA Wins Opener Over France

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Though it’s a short tournament, Team USA head coach Scott Gordon has a specific style of play for his team and thinks team speed will be a major benefit on the large ice surface. And there was a lot to like in today’s opening 7-2 win over France at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland.

While some of the European clubs in the tournament have been practicing together and playing exhibitions in the weeks preceding today, the U.S. team played just its second game as a group today and shook off any rust fairly quickly. France did open the scoring at 12:17 of the first period on a goal from Nicolas Besch; the Team USA defense gave an opening to two French forwards and a drop pass found Besch alone for a clean look at Jimmy Howard.

The early lead lasted less than five minutes. Dallas Stars blue liner Alex Goligoski ripped a stretch pass to Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders, and it was pretty much a clear-cut breakaway for the big right winger. Okposo faked to his backhand and roofed it under the bar past French goaltender Cristobal Huet – a name familiar to Blue Jackets fans as he played a few seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It was a 1-1 game in the second period until France began a march to the penalty box. The Americans had three power play chances in the opening 10 minutes and, thanks to a one-time blast from Jack Johnson, cashed in on two of those opportunities. Johnson beat Huet clean to the low-glove side with a well-placed shot to give the US a 2-1 lead.

Max Pacioretty hunted down a loose puck in the corner and snapped a cross-ice pass to Bobby Ryan streaking through the goal mouth. Ryan’s quick redirect beat Huet between the pads and stretched the US lead to 3-1. France closed to 3-2 later in the middle frame just after a power play had expired, but the response was the Americans was emphatic. Pacioretty scored his first goal of the tournament by deflecting Goligoski’s shot from the left point inside the far post, and Jim Slater cashed in on a 2-on-1 with Kyle Palmieri to quickly make it a 5-2 game.

Okposo and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry tallied in the third period for a 7-2 final.

WHAT’S TO LIKE: The speed and “attack” mentality of Team USA jumps out right away. That attitude and style of play looks to be a perfect marriage on the larger ice surface and USA Hockey wanted the team assembled to reflect it. Gordon and his staff have to be pleased with the performance of the Pacioretty-Stastny-Ryan top line, which got three points each from Stastny and Pacioretty. On the back end, there’s a lot of skill and smarts to make up ground on the big ice. Johnson led all American players in ice time (22:52) and drew minutes in all situations. Howard was strong in goal and saw a fairly clean game in front of him, thanks to steady play from the six defensemen. Something to watch going forward against better teams is how Team USA works matchups for its bottom-six forwards; the Atkinson-Abdelkader-Palmieri line saw limited action at even strength, but did get power play time in the third period.

WHAT’S NEXT: Team USA faces Canada tomorrow afternoon (12 p.m.) in Helsinki. The game will be aired on tape delay at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network and carried live by TSN.


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