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Palmieri's pair leads USA past Slovakia 6-1

by Mike G. Morreale
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- U.S. National Junior Team forward Kyle Palmieri has been known to have those days when the offense just kicks into high gear.
Against Slovakia in the preliminary round of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship on Tuesday, the 5-foot-10, 178-pound Anaheim Ducks prospect was flying, and his teammates followed his lead.
Palmieri struck for two first-period goals and added an assist to highlight a 57-shot performance as the U.S. scored its second straight victory, beating Slovakia 6-1 in Group A play here at HSBC Arena.

"My line (with Chris Kreider and Charlie Coyle) was playing pretty well," Palmieri said. "We had chemistry going and we were fortunate to draw a couple of penalties early by using our speed and then convert on the power play, which is good for the team. We carried that momentum throughout the game."

During last year's tournament, Palmieri ranked second on the team with 8 assists and third with 9 points, and had a point in six of seven games. After failing to notch a point in a 3-2 overtime victory against Finland on Sunday, Palmieri certainly compensated against Slovakia.

"I knew someone had to step up with guys like (Jeremy) Morin and (Brock) Nelson out of the lineup and I was fortunate enough to get a couple of lucky bounces," Palmieri said. "My linemates were supporting me really well and I'm hoping we keep up that energy."

Coyle, who had a goal and 2 assists, sensed the team's second line was on a roll from the start.

"Kyle's been at the top level of hockey so he knows what to do and I'm learning from him," Coyle said. "We keep clicking and he's fun to play with."

Palmieri, who had 1 goal in 10 NHL games earlier this season, helped the U.S. build an insurmountable 6-1 lead through two periods, and in the process chased standout goalie Dominik Riecicky.

Palmieri scored twice in the first when the U.S. held a 22-1 advantage in shots. Less than 24 hours earlier, Slovakia had scored an inspiring 2-1 overtime victory against Germany powered by Riecicky's 47 saves. Against the United States, however, Riecicky was pulled in the second period in favor of Juraj Holly after yielding six goals on 42 shots.

"I'd say that's when a little frustration starts to set in," Palmieri said. "I think we played the majority of time in their defensive zone and that wears on a team and it's never fun to play in your defensive zone the whole game. It's one of those things where you always want to get off to a good start as a team, and the fact we went out there and dominated the first period … I think it wore on their confidence and helped us."

Coyle and Chris Brown scored goals in the early stages of the second period before Slovakia finally connected on Tomas Jurco's goal at 12:26. The U.S. quickly re-established its dominance, scoring twice in a span of 3:25 on goals by Drew Shore and Emerson Etem to take a 6-1 lead into the third period.

"Kyle's been terrific for us and he's given us what we hope to get," U.S. coach Keith Allain said. "He put us out on the right foot but was also good on other side of the puck. We played together as a team and I'm beginning to see some of the things we've been working on in practice."

Allain also praised the performance on his third line, which consists of Shore, Jerry D'Amigo and Jason Zucker.

"They gave us offensive energy," Allain said.

Goaltender Jack Campbell finished with 17 saves for the U.S. Campbell, who made 32 saves in Sunday's overtime victory against Finland, turned aside eight shots in the second period but wasn't really tested as the U.S. defense did a splendid job in keeping much of the action to the perimeter.

"I thought when the puck was in our zone, the defensemen did a great job of breaking it out, having some poise and making the right play out to the weak side," Allain said. "We had good gaps and back pressure and didn't give them very much space to create any offense."

With Morin and Nelson missing due to upper-body injuries, Allain lost a third forward during Tuesday's game, as Zucker was knocked out of the game at 12:09 of the third period on an illegal hit to the head by Slovakia's Martin Marincin. Marincin, who appeared to get his elbow up high on Zucker, received a match penalty, meaning he must sit out Slovakia's next game, Thursday against Switzerland. Zucker was groggy as he was helped off the ice by teammates.

WJC tournament disciplinarian Dan Marouelli will have 24 hours to determine whether or not supplementary discipline is warranted.

"It was a vicious hit," Allain said of Marincin's play.

Palmieri seemed optimistic that Morin and Nelson would practice for the first time in three days Wednesday.

"They're feeling better by the day and (Tuesday) was just one of those days where we wanted to give them rest," he said. "Coming into (Wednesday's) practice, they'll both be on the ice and we'll go from there."

Allain also received a scare in the first when D'Amigo was the recipient of a high hit by Peter Hrasko 6:42 into the first. He slowly skated off the ice, but later returned to the game. Hrasko received a match penalty for checking to the head and neck area and also is suspended for Thursday's game.

"I think they took a couple cheap shots there in the third and some of their frustration came out,"
U.S. defenseman Jonathan Merrill said.

Coyle agreed.

"They were taking stupid penalties and putting us on the power play, so that's what killed them and we took advantage and beat them down with that," Coyle said.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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