GANGNEUNG, South Korea – The effort was more complete. The defense was better. The result reflected those positives.
One game after melting down in a disappointing loss, the U.S men’s hockey team pushed hard from start to finish to defeat Slovakia 2-1 at Gangneung Hockey Center.
The win was important because the Americans couldn’t afford falling to 0-2 in the preliminary round before they even face Olympic Athletes from Russia.
The U.S. got two power-play goals from Ryan Donato and showed much more poise than in its Olympic opener.
In that game, the Americans played a solid 40 minutes, then fell apart in the third once Slovenia made a hard charge. Most of their problems started in their defensive zone with mistakes and what looked like breakdowns in communication.
Blowing a two-goal lead in the third period is not the ideal way to start a tournament. Slovakia took the opposite route, by rallying from a two-goal deficit to upset gold-medal favorite Olympic Athletes from Russia in its opener.
Any concern about whether the Americans would exhibit hangover effects went away almost immediately. They came out with high energy and physical play. And they looked to attack on offense.
Tied 1-1 after two periods, the Americans struck early in the third on Donato’s second goal of the game. His goal came just seven seconds with the man advantage.
Positioned along the goal line, Donato spun around to free himself and jammed the puck past goalie Jan Laco.
The Americans felt like they didn’t make Slovenia’s goaltender work hard enough in their first game. They were almost too unselfish in working the puck around and didn’t get enough pucks on net.
Team USA used its speed to create space and scoring chances against Slovakia. The Americans nearly doubled Slovakia in shots through two periods (25-13) but could not break the 1-1 deadlock.
Team USA scored first on a power play in the first period. Troy Terry weaved down the ice before dropping the puck to Donato, who blasted a slap shot.
Momentum didn’t last long. Twenty-five seconds to be exact. On the next shift, Slovakia tied it on a soft goal that Ryan Zapolski no doubt wishes he had back.
Slovakia came on a rush and Andrej Kudrna had the puck along the goal line, a few feet to Zapolski’s left. He flipped the puck on net and it rolled over Zapolski’s arm and into the net.
In the opener against Slovenia, Zapolski gave up two goals on screens or rebounds that prevented him from seeing the puck. He just didn’t make the save on Slovakia’s goal.
Team USA scored two power-play goals on superb individual plays by Donato, but the power play also looked disjointed at times, which is not surprising considering the team’s lack of practice time before the Olympics. The Americans had trouble controlling the puck and getting set-up with the man advantage.
Wild prospect and birthday boy Jordan Greenway, who turned 21 on Friday, had another solid performance after scoring a goal in his Olympic debut. He finished with a team-high four shots while centering the top line.