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USA cruises past Austria 5-1 in opener

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
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If Team USA's opener at the 2011 IIHF World Championship tournament was any indication on Saturday, then the Rangers' future will be looking brighter and brighter with each day of this international event.

Rangers prospect Chris Kreider scored the game's first goal, Rangers forward Derek Stepan had two assists, and Blueshirts defenseman Ryan McDonagh was a plus-1 with two shots as the Americans coasted past Austria 5-1 in Kosice, Slovakia.

Derek Stepan
Team USA outshot Austria 32-13, making it an easy afternoon for former Rangers draftee Al Montoya. The Islanders netminder needed to make only 12 saves to earn the win.

Up next in the preliminary round for the U.S. will be Norway on Monday. Mats Zuccarello, who spent half the 2010-11 season with the Blueshirts, would have been on the Norwegian roster for this tournament, but he broke his hand late in the season while playing for the AHL's Connecticut Whale.

On Saturday, Stepan, Kreider and McDonagh were all used in key situations and saw plenty of time an the American team that features 18 NHL players, one KHL players, and two U.S. college players. Those NCAA stars are Wisconsin's Craig Smith and Kreider, who just finished his sophomore season at Boston College.

Stepan centered the top line with Smith, a former college teammate and Nashville Predators draft pick, and Blake Wheeler of the Atlanta Thrashers. That line combined on a pretty first-period goal that gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead and stood up as the game-winner. Stepan also centered the No. 1 power-play unit for Team USA.

Kreider, a left wing, skated on the third line on Saturday alongside Nick Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils and Ryan Shannon of the Ottawa Senators. He was also on the second power-play unit and was named the Team USA Player of the Game for his performance.

Ryan McDonagh
McDonagh, who made a big impression after being called up to the Rangers from Connecticut midway through the 2010-11 season, was paired on defense with NHL veteran Mike Komisarek of the Toronto Maple Leafs and was one of Team USA's ice-time leaders.  McDonagh and Stepan also played big roles in the U.S. penalty-killing units, and McDonagh was on the ice for an extended Austrian 5-on-3 that the Americans killed with relative ease.

Stepan, who had two shots on goal and was plus-2 in leading all forwards with 20:21 of ice time, made his presence felt early in the game when he and Wheeler were stopped on a shorthanded 2-on-1 about 11 minutes into the opening period. Stepan's scoring bid was broken up by a diving Austrian defenseman, as the shot never got through to Austrian goalie Jurgen Penker.

Just over three minutes later, Kreider got the Americans out to a 1-0 lead when he showcased his world-class speed to go end-to-end for a goal at 14:42 of the first. Taking off from just inside the USA blue line, Kreider spend down the right side, faked out Austrian captain Gerhard Unterluggauer in the right circle, and then drove hard to the net to beat Penker short side. Stepan picked up the second assist on Kreider's goal.

At 17:15 of the first, Stepan set up the game-winning goal by Wheeler, who capped off a pretty give-and-go  to make it 2-0 after an Autrian turnover. Stepan faked a shot from the left circle before sending the puck to a wide open Wheeler in the slot.

Chris Kreider
Kreider, who ended his afternoon at plus-2 with three shots on goal, got another scoring chance with 1:10 left in the first period, but was stopped on a backhand as he came out from behind the net. Kreider then nearly scored one minute into the second period when his centering pass was bobbled by Penker in the crease.

After failing to score on extended power-play,including a long 5-on-3, Austria cut the lead to 2-1 on a goal by Marco Pewal at 14:00 of the second. Pewal beat Montoya on a bullet from high slot for what would prove to be the only Austrian goal. Moments later, Kreider laid a tremendous hit on Pewal.

Team USA took a 3-1 lead at 18:36 of the second when Yan Stastny, the son of Slovak hockey legend Peter Stastny, hammered a puck past Penker's left pad at 18:36.

The lead widened to 4-1 at 2:47 of the third when Connecticut-born U.S. defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored on wrister from right point. McDonagh and Kreider were both on the ice for Shattenkirk's goal.

Smith closed out the scoring when he scored from the right circle at the third period's 16:42 mark. Stepan was on the ice for his former Wisconsin teammate's first IIHF World Championship goal.

Rangers forward Marian Gaborik is also off to a 1-0 start at the Worlds, which are taking place in his home country. The Slovaks beat Slovenia 3-1 in their opener on Friday and will face Germany in their second preliminary-round game on Sunday.
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