Men's hockey, arguably the Winter Olympics' most popular event, kicked off Thursday, and the U.S. national team dispatched a fairly strong Slovakia team without breaking a sweat.
For a team initially criticized for not carrying enough goal scoring power, to finish the first game with 7-1 victory against another top 10 hockey power must be a relief. After a close first period, Team U.S.A. let the cannons fire in the second period and never really looked back.
The all-star of the game was American forward Phil Kessel, who, not to brag, was one of our Olympic stars to watch. Kessel had a goal and two assists. It was off his stick that America opened the goal scoring flood gates; he set up defenseman John Carlson for the first goal of the game. Late in the first period, Kessel and Carlson charged into the Slovakian zone, and Kessel dropped the puck back to Carlson with an ease that would suggest the two have played together all season. Carlson sent the shot over Slovakian goaltender Jaroslav Halak's right shoulder.
Team U.S.A. piled on in the second period. Slovakia's defense could not find an answer for the American firepower, despite having two NHL players, Zdeno Chara and Andrej Sekera, anchor their top defensive line. The Olympic ice surface is wider and longer than your typical NHL rink. When you give some of the most creative offensive minds in the world that much room to work, they're going to make goals like this one look easy. Patrick Kane, America's top goal scorer, got the puck along the boards and was somehow not mobbed by Slovakia's defense. Given room to work, Kane slowly skated the puck into open space while Dustin Brown charged the net, drawing defenders with him. Ryan Kessler was left alone in prime goal scoring position, so he set his feet, easily received the puck from Kane and wired a shot past Halak. The U.S. team's other goals came from Paul Stastny, David Backes, and Dustin Brown, who are all the top forwards U.S. coaches hope will continue to contribute at high levels.
Team U.S.A. showed exactly the kind of offensive chemistry needed if they hope to challenge Canada, the country favored to win gold, and for good reason. Canada's team is stacked from top to bottom with bonafide NHL players. They play an outmatched Norwegian team later on Thursday. There will be blood.
[All GIFs via Pete Blackburn at Next Impulse Sports]