HALIFAX – Team USA turned aside a determined Slovenian squad, scoring three power play goals to earn a 5-1 win.
Phil Kessel’s middle frame goals paced the Americans en route to a showdown on Tuesday against Canada in the final game of the Preliminary Round here in Halifax.
Slovenia came out determined not to sit back passively and let the Americans dictate the pace of the game. They took the play to the Americans and were the early aggressors.
The attack was led by Anze Kopitar who, if not making everyone around him better, certainly is making them respectable. Kopitar drove to the net, drew penalties and scored.
"It was strange playing against him because we were roommates in Los Angeles last year and he is one of my best friends," said USA forward Patrick O'Sullivan.
Team USA would blunt the Slovenian effort by taking the lead midway through the first.
Patrick Kane forced a turnover in the Slovenia zone. Defenseman Jakob Milovanovic coughed up the puck between the faceoff circles and Kane picked it up, settled it down, and fired a wrister that Robert Kristan stood no chance of stopping. Dustin Brown assisted on the goal.
The goal was Team USA’s fifth consecutive power play score. All of their goals against Latvia came with the man-advantage.
"We work a lot on the power play during practice because there are so many penalties called here," said Kane. "We've scored seven in two games so there is a good feeling with our special teams play."
Things got a tense late in the first period when Keith Ballard nailed Kopitar along the boards. Ballard was assessed a two minute penalty for checking to the neck and head area, and a ten-minute unsportsmanlike penalty at 18:18. The advantage did not last long as Dejan Varl was sent off for holding at 19:47.
Team USA’s defensive coverage was superior in the second as they neutralized the Slovenian attack. Slovenia managed a mere three shots on goal in the period.
Kessel, making his third straight IIHF World Championship appearance for Team USA, picked up a pair of power play goals. On the first he used Miha Rebolj as a screen to send a shot past Kristan.
Less than seven minutes later when Uros Vidmar was called off for hooking, Kessel would score another, almost from the same position as the first but this time skated closer on the net and converted an even higher percentage scoring chance.
Slovenia finally got on the scoreboard when Kopitar raced to the right of the net and sent a wrist shot far side past Tim Thomas. It was the first goal Thomas has allowed this tournament after shutting out Latvia on Friday. Tomaz Razingar and Ales Krancj picked up assists.
"I'm glad he scored even though I was on the ice," said O'Sullivan of his friend and Los Angeles Kings teammate.
In the third period Team USA added two goals for good measure, including their first even strength goals of the tournament. David Booth scored 5:05 into the period and Kessel got another for the hat trick.
Kristan, the hero in Friday’s game against Canada, faced 37 shots. Thomas, buoyed by strong defense in front, faced 12.
"I thought 5-on-5 we played pretty even but those penalties in the second period were really tough on us," said Kristan. "They were really tough on us on the power play."
Team USA now prepares for its pivotal contest against Canada on Tuesday. With all Canadian teams now eliminated from the NHL playoffs, there should be significant interest in this game.
Slovenia and Latvia play that evening as well. The winner avoids the Relegation Round.