By Dan Rosen | NHL.com
SOCHI -- Any curiosity United States coach Dan Bylsma might have had about how a team he’s still getting to know would respond to some adversity went away quickly in the second period Thursday.
After watching Slovakia forward Tomas Tatar get away with going into the zone offside to score a game-tying goal 24 seconds in, the Americans responded with six unanswered goals before the second intermission, blowing open a tight game en route to a 7-1 throttling of the Slovaks in the Group A opener for each team at Shayba Arena.
The U.S. had six goal scorers and 11 players with at least one point, led by Phil Kessel’s three. Paul Stastny scored twice, John Carlson had a goal and an assist, and T.J. Oshie, James van Riemsdyk and Patrick Kane each had two assists. Ryan Kesler, Dustin Brown and David Backes also scored for the Americans.
Jonathan Quick made 22 saves in his Olympic debut to help the U.S. beat Slovakia for the first time in the Olympics. The Americans tied the Slovaks in 1994 and lost to them in 2006.
"We talked about how we're going to play and how we're going to keep playing, keep going forward, and I loved how we responded not just with the next shift and not just with the goals we got there, but that 10 minutes of hockey there," Bylsma said. "We scored some goals, got the second, third and fourth goal, but it was about how we played. We had our best shifts there in the second period playing in the offensive zone. We had some exceptional shifts by hemming them in. That's the type of team we are and that's the kind of team we're going to have to be."
The Americans put their depth, balance, speed, physicality and creativity on display in the second period.
Kesler rocketed a one-timer from the top of the right circle past Slovakia goalie Jaroslav Halak 62 seconds after Tatar’s goal. Stastny put home a rebound off Halak’s pads 1:06 later.
The Slovaks were attempting to sit back and play a defensive game but found themselves overrun by the Americans.
"All of a sudden they were all over us," Slovakia forward Marian Hossa said.
Backes beat Halak, his St. Louis Blues teammate, at 8:16 when he used his backhand to finish a scramble in front of the goalie. Stastny scored his second of the game 5:14 later, redirecting Kevin Shattenkirk's pretty feed from the right circle past Halak at 13:30.
At this point, Slovakia coach Vladimir Vujtek turned to Peter Budaj. But 50 seconds into his first Olympic appearance since 2006, Budaj gave up a redirection goal to Kessel, who got his stick down to deflect a shot-pass from the left circle by van Riemsdyk, his Toronto Maple Leafs teammate. Brown made it 7-1 57 seconds later when he put a one-timer off a feed from Carlson past Budaj.
Vujtek used his timeout after Brown's goal.
"I think we might have surprised ourselves with some of the plays we made out there," U.S. captain Zach Parise said. "It looked like it was clicking pretty early for us."
The Slovaks similarly were surprised with how poor they were playing in the second period after going toe-to-toe with the Americans in the first. Despite being down 1-0 and getting outshot 11-4, the Slovaks had several quality scoring chances on odd-man rushes that they were oh-so-close to finishing.
They made the Americans work in the first. Not so much in the second, Tatar said.
"All of a sudden it was like guys started to be scared to play and nobody wanted the puck," Tatar said. "We weren't good in our [defensive] zone. It was just too easy I felt. It wasn't like they scored nice goals, for a long time in our zone, circling on us. It was out of nowhere 3-on-2s, drop passes and shots. I felt it was easy for them to score goals like this."
The Americans might disagree because they felt they worked for those goals by attacking the Slovaks, trying to get through the trapping style they intended to play as the underdog and undermanned team.
Once Kesler scored the go-ahead goal the Americans felt the momentum swing back to their side and they played fast and deep in the offensive zone. Backes said they needed the first period to get acclimated to the big ice, but once they got going in the second the Slovaks had no way to respond.
"[Tatar's goal] was about as perfect of a shot as you can get and kind of a wake-up call that if we don't play a good game, where we take care of the puck and manage it well, they have plenty of skill and can bury it," Backes said. "I think it was kind of a wake-up call and after that we had a pretty good spurt of goals where guys were making plays and had their heads up, playing together."
Every line contributed at least one goal, but Bylsma said the fourth line of Stastny between Max Pacioretty and Oshie was the Americans' best. It combined for two goals, three assists and seven shots on goal.
"Not only do they find themselves on the score sheet, but every time over the boards they made something happen with their offensive-zone time," Bylsma said. "That's the kind of depth throughout your lineup that you need to have and we do have."
The Americans have less than 48 hours to prepare for their showdown Saturday against Russia at Bolshoy Ice Dome (7:30 a.m., NBCSN, CBC). A win will put them in position to clinch an automatic berth to the quarterfinals.
Russia beat Slovenia 5-2 in a game that was played simultaneously with the U.S.-Slovakia game.
"I think it'll be loud and it'll definitely be a hostile environment," Kane said. "I think it'll be a lot more enthusiastic and intense than this game [Thursday], so we've got to make sure to get ready for that game as much as possible."
"We know that this is their home country,” Backes said. “They’ve been getting a lot of attention, they've got a lot of firepower and there will be no need for motivation on their side. We'll need to match that."
Bylsma admitted he thought Thursday about coaching against the Russians on their ice.
"Before our game, just on the dawn of our first game here in the Olympics, it got real serious for me," he said.
Bylsma is familiar with several of the Russian stars, especially Evgeni Malkin, whom he coaches with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bylsma said he thinks Russia might be the most talented team in the tournament.
"Evgeni Malkin, I've seen him do things that I don't know what he's going to do next and how he does it offensively, so to have a game plan or tell someone what to expect, you might have to expect the unexpected," Bylsma said. "We may have a little more information on how to get to Evgeni Malkin, but I'm not sure it's going to be the full story."