Phil Kessel's Hat Trick Sends the US to a 5-1 Win, Quarterfinals

Martin Rose

Team USA got off to a quick start but lagged through the middle of the game, ending up with a comfortable victory over Slovenia on the back of the Kessel, Pavelski, JVR line.

Final Score: USA 5, Slovenia 1

First Period Recap: Jonathan Quick was given the day off by Dan Bylsma as Ryan Miller took to the net for the first time in the tournament and Jimmy Howard backed him up.  Also Derek Stepan stepped in for Max Pacioretty.

The game got off to the expected quick start as Phil Kessel opened the scoring by walking right around Mitja Robar and slipping it five hole on Luka Gracnar only 1:04 into the game.

Zach Parise had the next chance, also going five hole.  Gracnar had to take a peek behind him, but he was able to squeeze it off.  Only 30 seconds later, Joe Pavelski gathered it off of the lively boards and flipped an aerial pass from behind the goal line to Kessel who batted it out of mid-air and in for an early 2-0 lead.

Slovenia showed a little life with a couple shots.  First was one that kicked out but Miller just poked the rebound away from Anze Kopitar, then former Red Wing Jan Mursak walked to the middle and missed over the top.  For the majority of the period after the second goal the US lagged and Slovenia controlled the pace.  For about 5 min following the 2nd goal the us didn't even have a shot

James van Riemsdyk had the Americans' best chance of the final 15 minutes of the period with a nice backhand to forehand move to the side of the net, speeding around the dman but he shoveled over the top.  Slovenia's most dangerous chance was a big slapper from Robert Sabolic at the top of the circle, but Miller was all over it.

Strong play from the Slovenians in the last 15 minutes or so kept the game relatively even with the US only leading the shot count by one (8-7).

Second Period Recap: The first couple if shifts were marked by good forechecking from the US but ended with a goalie interference penalty against David Backes when he tripped in the slot and fell into Gracnar.  The first pp unit if Slovenia, minus Kopitar, moved the puck we and got one shot on Miller that he saved somewhat awkwardly but nothing beyond that.

Slovenia kept momentum after the kill.  Kopitar made a nice cross ice pass but they tried one extra pass that was broken up by Cam Fowler.  The line of Kessel, Pavelski and JVR put together a nice passing play on the rush and Carlson would have had a great scoring chance if it wasn't for a great backchecking play by Mursak to steal the puck roughly five minutes into the period.

The US went on their first power play when T.J. Oshie was taken down in a scrum at the net after a Paul Stastny shot off the rush.  The PP was not good.  Slovenia had two shorthanded rushes, although Pavelski did get back to block the shot attempt on the first and Miller made a routine save on the second.  The Americans matched Slovenian shot total during that penalty.

Nine minutes into the period, Miller made probably his biggest mistake of the game, turning thepuck over behind the net, but he recovered in time to make a save on Jan Urbas.

The Oshie, Stastny, Blake Wheeler line created a flurry of chances on the US's first real spell of offensive zone dominance for the game (even their goals came off the rush).  They held the zone for their whole shift and the US continued to pressure as they got a full shift change, getting Kessel, Pavelski and JVR on the ice to inevitably finish off Kessel's hat trick.

Pavelski took a shot from the point with a serious screen at the top of the crease from JVR and the rebound came straight to Kessel with a wide open net.  The hat trick was the first for an American (man) at the Olympics since John Leclair scored three against Finland in 2002.

Just over a minute later, Wheeler stayed true to his name and took a lap around the Slovenian zone before zipping a cross ice pass through all of the defenders to Ryan McDonagh for a one timer that made it 4-0.

Right after that goal, Oshie took a penalty for slashing. Kopitar was back on the PP for Slovenia and again they showed good movement and possession with the extra man.  Their best chance was a shot off of the knob of Miller's stick, but overall it was a slightly better kill for the US.

Third Period Recap: Three and a half minutes into the third, Backes crashed the far post and Ryan Callahan got the puck to him.  It deflected off of the skate of Backes then he got the shaft of his stick on it and past Gracnar to extend the lead to 5-0.  The goal was reviewed, but even if it hadn't gone off the stick there was no kicking motion.

Shortly after that goal, the US went on the PP again when Stastny was held by Ziga Pavlin, inhibiting the American from getting to a rebound opportunity.  The first action of the power play was a shot by Slovenia that had to be held by Miller.  JVR made a pass from the side of the net between his own legs to Backes in front but he was knocked off his feet as he took the shot from the top of the crease.

At the midway point of the game JVR went off for a high stick.  Once again it was a good showing by Slovenia on the PP, but this time the best play was an athletic holding of the blueline.  Following the kill the Kessel, JVR, Pavelski line had two more opportunities to get Kessel the Pants Trick, but to no avail.

Gracnar made his best save of the game with about four and a half minutes left in the game on Wheeler as Oshie fed a cross ice pass to him for the one timer.  Mursak had another chance coming across the middle of the ice with just more than two and a half minutes left, but it was blocked by Ryan Kessler.

With 17 seconds left in the game, the shutout was ruined.  The puck came into the zone, Oshie and Brooks Orpik were tied up with a Slovenian forechecker so off the active end boards it came to 26.  He dropped it for Marcel Rodman who ripped it into the top of the net over Miller's blocker.  Great shot to make the final score 5-1.

*****

Good: The top line of Kessel, Pavelski and JVR was magic and the US did just enough to win their group and a bye in the first knockout stage.

Bad: As big as the special teams came up against Russia, they were equally as bad in this game.  Luckily the US will have two full days without a game to work on it.

Ugly: Despite any of the action of the final frame, the most important development for both the Slovenians and possibly the NHL after the break, was that Anze Kopitar did not play the third period.  Here's hoping that any injury isn't serious and he was only kept out because of the score, similar to Teemu Selanne's situation in Finland's opening game against Austria.

*****

3rd Star: Jan Mursak - was the most dangerous player for Slovenia and made some impressive defensive plays as well.

2nd Star: Joe Pavelski - the jelly to Kessel's peanut butter.  These two worked so well together (and with JVR, the bread I guess) showing their speed, vision and hands.  It was a thing of beauty.

1st Star: Amanda Phil Kessel - with the natural hat trick by the second period, who else could it possibly have been?

Next Game: Wednesday, February 19, Time and Opponent TBD

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