SOCHI -- John Carlson had scored on the last shot he took in a United States sweater, so he made it two in a row Thursday.
The Washington Capitals defenseman opened the scoring in a 7-1 rout of Slovakia in the first game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics for the Americans at Shayba Arena. Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel skated toward the right circle on a 3-on-2 and left a pass in his wake for Carlson, who blasted a shot into the top left corner of the net past Slovakia goaltender Jaroslav Halak at 14:27 of the first period.
"It was a pretty cool way to start the game," Carlson said. "We were tied there for a little bit so it was good. Kessel made a great play, just dragging the [defense] in deep and dropped it to me in the middle of the ice and I made a nice shot."
The prior time Carlson played a game for the United States, he ended it. His overtime goal against Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is a landmark goal in American hockey history.
That came on a 2-on-1. This goal came on the first odd-man rush the United States had against the Slovakia. The U.S. controlled play to that point, but Halak made a couple of big saves and the Americans were not finding a lot of open space in the offensive zone.
"Looking at the back end of our team with a handful of guys playing their first games, it dawned on me that we are especially young on the back side," U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. "I thought it was fitting that we scored the first goal from John Carlson there. It was a great play by Phil and Ryan Kesler, but John steps into that shot and gets us going with the first goal there. I thought it was fitting that it was a young guy and first-timer who gets that first goal."
A similar situation played out Wednesday in this arena. Switzerland dominated puck possession and created good chances but did not solve Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis until the 60th minute.
This game opened up after the Carlson goal. Tomas Tatar scored early in the second period for Slovakia before the United States rattled off six straight goals.
"The first one always makes everyone play a little looser. We were able to take a deep breath," U.S. captain Zach Parise said.
Carlson was paired with Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler and finished with 13:47 of ice time. Carlson did not score on a third straight shot when Slovakia’s backup goaltender, Peter Budaj, turned aside his attempt in the third period.
Fowler was Carlson’s teammate on that 2010 WJC team and they could be a nice fit together moving forward for the Americans.
"It doesn't matter who I play with, but we played together the majority of the time [Thursday] and I thought we played well together," Carlson said.
Carlson assisted on the Americans' seventh goal. He had the puck deep in the offensive zone and snapped a pass into the slot for Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown, who one-timed a shot past Budaj.
Carlson has nine career points in eight games while representing his country. The goal in the WJC isn’t the only one he’s scored in a memorable moment. He also beat Halak in overtime in Game 2 of the 2010 NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Capitals and Halak's team at the time, the Montreal Canadiens.
"Some of these guys have played in big games and been in big spotlights, but maybe none bigger than the one we were in [Thursday]," Bylsma said. "I thought to get our feet underneath us, especially those young guys on defense, I thought they played large. We have Paul Martin and [Ryan] Suter back there, but Cam Fowler and John Carlson in particular, and Ryan McDonagh, played well on the back side."