Team USA kicked off its 2011 World Men's Championship tournament with a solid 5-1 victory over Team Austria earlier this morning. While the score may seem like it was a dominating effort, Team USA spent most of the first period getting used to each other and it took a Chris Kreider goal almost 15 minutes into the game to really get the US going.
Kreider's goal was the culmination of Chris putting all of his tools to use as he gathered the puck in the defensive zone, skating up through the right wing, powering through hip check and finished hard pushing the puck past Austrian goalie Jurgen Penker who didn't keep his stake against the right post and Kreider slipped the puck behind it for the goal.
Team USA's second goal by Blake Wheeler came off of a neutral zone turnover by Austria and involved some pretty tic-tac-toe passing that ended with Derek Stepan (the 1st line center on team USA) feeding Wheeler who got the one timer just below the left face off circle beating a sprawling Penker.
In the second period Team USA got a bit sloppy and took three early penalties, two of them back to back giving Austria a 5 on 3 that the US killed off expertly. However, Austria was riding a wave of momentum and took advantage of some poor defensive positioning cutting the US lead to 2-1.
With 1:24 left to play USA defenseman Yan Stastny gave the US back its two goal lead by poking the puck past Penker at the end of a scrum on the side of the net. It was a dirty goal that was the end result of Team USA playing until a whistle blew as four US players converged on a rebound from a point shot that Penker bobbled and tried to cover.
Team USA shut the door in the third when Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a twisted wrister from the top of the right face off circle, the play was started with Chris Kreider, Nick Palmieri, and Ryan Shannon (a very strong 2nd line for the US) working the puck well in the offensive zone with Kreider using his size and strength to keep the puck in US control and Palmieri fed Shattenkirk who waited out the defender and used Chris Kreider as a moving screen and then ripped the shot over Penker's shoulder giving the Boys in White a 4-1 lead.
Team USA played excellent defense all game allowing goalie Al Montoya see only 13 shots on goal, hard to judge his day since he barely got any work against an Austrian team that was out matched when it comes to talent, and kept all Austria's chances to the outside and not allowing Austria to really establish pressure except for those brief moments in the second period.
USA's final goal came from Craig Smith, playing in his first ever game for Team USA, on a sick shot from inside the right face off circle and put it past Penker low glove side finding a hole between the glove and the pad.
Take the jump for my impressions on Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and Chris Kreider
Derek Stepan was the top line center for team USA playing with Blake Wheeler and Craig Smith as the first line. Step seemed up to the task as a 1st line center and put up assists on both Kreider's goal and Blake Wheeler's snipe.
Chris Kreider, to me, was really impressive today. He used his size to protect the puck in the offensive zone and used all of his tools to get the US on the board in the first. Playing on the second line with Nick Palmieri and Ryan Shannon seemed to really work for Kreider as they were putting up good pressure in the Austrian zone all game.
Ryan McDonagh was playing like Ryan McDonagh, maybe without as much physicality given the larger ice surface, McD was his usual calm and positionally sound self taking away passing and shooting lanes and keep Austria along the boards.
My three stars of the game:
1. Derek Stepan (USA): With two assists Derek seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on with his first line centerman duties
2. Chris Kreider (USA): Kreider got Team USA on the board and was pretty effective all game long skating on the second line
3: Kevin Shattenkirk (USA): Put up USA's fourth goal and was very involved with the offense as well as making some pretty solid defensive plays while paired with McDonagh most of the game
Team USA's next game will be Monday morning against Norway sans Mats Zuccarello
NYR Highlights USA vs. AUT IIHF 04/30/2011 (via RhinoNo23)