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Rejuvenated Americans look to build off win, face unbeaten Slovakia

NHL.com @NHL

The United States has been inconsistent in its first two Olympic games. It will need to be at its best starting now.

The Americans begin the toughest portion of preliminary-round play Saturday when they take on unbeaten Slovakia.

The U.S. will face Sweden on Sunday and Russia on Tuesday to close out the opening round, but can't overlook the Slovaks, who are the only 2-0 team in Group B play.

"I don't think it's a surprise to anybody," Bill Guerin said. "They have some of the premier players in the league. They might be one of the smaller countries, but they're as good as anybody."

After looking tired in a 3-3 tie in Wednesday's opener against Latvia, the Americans scored three times in the first period of a 4-1 victory over lightly regarded Kazakhstan on Thursday.

"I think we came out much better and much stronger tonight," U.S. coach Peter Laviolette said. "We had more urgency on the puck. We played with a spark that we didn't have against Latvia."

Guerin opened the scoring 94 seconds into the contest, and Brian Rolston and Brian Gionta added power-play goals as the U.S. outshot the Kazakhs 17-5 in the first period.

Gionta, the Devils leading scorer with 33 goals and 56 points, has scored in his first two Olympic games.

Mike Modano closed the scoring midway through the third period, and that was more than enough for goaltender Rick DiPietro, who needed to make only 11 saves en route to a win in his Olympic debut.

"Obviously, you're going to have jitters the first time you play in this event, but at the end of the day, it's still the same game," DiPietro said.

DiPietro is expected to return to the net on Saturday, but will surely be tested more by Slovakia, whose roster includes Los Angeles' Pavol Demitra and Minnesota Wild star Marian Gaborik.

"They've got a great team," Laviolette said. "They've got good goaltending, they've got big defensemen, but their forwards are dynamic. We need offense, but defensively we'd better check well and be aggressive on the puck and not give them a lot of time and space to make plays."

The Slovaks opened the tournament with a 5-3 victory over Russia before beating Latvia 6-3 on Thursday behind two goals from Marian Hossa and 25 saves from Jan Lasak.

"We have some of the fastest players back in the NHL and our goalie is better than people think," said Demitra, who scored one of Slovakia's four first-period goals Thursday. "It's too early to talk about gold, but we didn't fly 15 hours just to play here."

Hossa had three assists in the win over Russia and his five points tie him with Finland's Teemu Selanne for the Olympic scoring lead.

Demitra and Gaborik are among 14 players tied for fourth with three points each.

Slovakia will face Kazakhstan on Sunday before ending preliminary-round play Tuesday against Sweden. The top four teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals starting Wednesday.

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