On Golden Ponds: Speed Leads To Team USA Hockey Win - NBC4 Washington
Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

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On Golden Ponds: Speed Leads To Team USA Hockey Win

Offensive explosion could be sign of good things to come

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    Jaroslav Halak #41 of Slovakia makes a save against the United States during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Shayba Aren

    The executives who pieced together the U.S. men's hockey team wanted speed.

    They definitely got what they wished for.

    They also wanted scoring prowess, but few could have imagined the offensive outburst put forth by Team USA Thursday in the team's opening game of the Olympics -- a 7-1 drubbing of Team Slovakia.

    The American squad danced around Slovakian defenders all day. It looked as if the Slovakian defense, led by Boston Bruins stalwart Zdeno Chara, was stuck in mud, constantly a step behind the darting U.S. attack.

    The Americans' speed shouldn't have caught Team Slovakia off guard. It was well known before the Games that coach Dan Bylsma wanted to build his team around it.

    But what surprised many was the ease at which Team USA was able to rack up the goals. In past Olympics the U.S. was known for speed but could never quite muster the offensive firepower to keep up with powerhouses like Canada, Russia and Sweden.

    But to throw up a six spot in the second period of an Olympic game? That's gotta raise some eyebrows in Sochi.

    "It was a little bit of a slow start, a little feeling out period," forward David Backes told NBC's Pierre McGuire after the game. "It's a different game out there, but it's enjoyable. It was a fun time."

    Fun indeed.

    Has a tide finally turned in U.S. hockey? Have skill levels finally caught up to determination levels? Is Team USA now the team to beat in international competition?

    Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Slovakia certainly wasn't an elite squad, even with the likes of Chara, Jaroslav Halak and a few Hossas thrown into the mix.

    And outside of Chara, the Slovakian defense was weak, especially with Lubomir Visnovsky bowing out of the tournament with an injury. Not only could they not keep up with the U.S. players, they couldn't move them out of the crease. On one of the goals, three Americans were banging at a loose puck at will in front of Jaroslav Halak while four defenders just seemed to watch. They swatted at the puck rather than taking the body. It was a clinic in how not to play defense.

    U.S. fans may want to hold off on getting those 2014 gold medal tattoos for now. The U.S. will have a much bigger challenge in their next game against Team Russia, which looked strong in its opening game 5-2 win against Slovenia. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring in front of the home fans, and they cruised to victory.

    It's worth noting, however, that Slovenia has just one NHL player on its roster -- Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar.

    So despite the impressive showing by both Team USA and their Russian counterparts, we probably won't get a good feel for the capabilities of each squad until they meet on the ice Saturday.

    "They've been getting a lot of press and a lot of attention," Backes said of Team Russia. "They're firing on all cylinders. They've got a lot of firepower."

    The game can be seen live at 7:30 a.m. ET/4:30 a.m. PT on the NBC Sports Network and on nbcolympics.com.