International Ice Hockey Federation

Cruise control

Nelson double leads US past Italy

Published 10.05.2017 18:40 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
Cruise control
COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 10: USA's Anders Lee #27 with a scoring chance against Italy's Andreas Bernard #1 while Thomas Larkin #27 looks on during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
With Italy struggling to generate offence, team USA had a comfortable afternoon as it skated to a solid 3-0 victory thanks to two goals from Brock Nelson.

Team USA picked up its third straight victory as shot-shy Italy once again struggled to produce the offence needed to hurt an opponent at this level. The shot-count from the ‘Squaddra Azzurra’ told the tale of this game – just two efforts on Jimmy Howard’s goal in the first period and three in the next ensured that the Italians were a long way from scoring the goals that might have sparked a shock result.

Those kind of stats put huge pressure on the defence to produce a flawless game – but that did not happen here. The first two American goals – both scored by Brock Nelson – were both of the order that has coaches howling in frustration. First, in the sixth minute, Daniel Glira was far too casual when looking to play the puck from beyond his own goal line. The attempted clearance went straight to Nelson, and the Islanders’ centre needed no second invitation to rifle home a wrister from the face-off spot.

Nelson's contribution has not gone unnoticed by team captain Connor Murphy. "He's a skilled guy and he brings a lot to the national team," Murphy said. "It might have been when we were in Prague, and he had some unbelievable plays. He's a natural player and a good team-mate. That's why we've had some success in the tournament, and Brock's been a big part of that."

Early in the second Italy had its best spell of the game. Raphael Andergassen was a whisker away from releasing Giulio Scandella for a solo rush, but the pass just evaded his team-mate’s stick and by the time Scandella recovered possession he was force to wire a shot from out wide that was comfortable for Howard.

Then came the next defensive lapse. Italy had the power play, but Nelson overpowered Simon Kostner and set Dylan Larkin down the left channel. Nelson continued his advance and was perfectly placed to redirected Larkin’s feed inside Andreas Bernard’s near post. Two goals for Nelson, two for the USA, and yet more frustration for the Italians.

Larkin moved on to seven assists for the tournament on that play, enjoying his third World Championship campaign after a frustrating NHL season with the Red Wings - and added that his struggles in Detroit were an added motivation to join up with his country in Cologne.

"I had a bitter taste in my mouth from the season just gone and I wanted to come over here," he said. "Every time you get to wear this jersey it's an honour but, more than that, I wanted to finish my season on a positive note. We've got a great group coming over and we want to win medals. It's a mix of personal things, team things, country things and I've got a positive feeling that we can do well in this tourament."

Soon afterwards the Americans added a third, continuing Italy’s misery on the penalty kill. Anders Lee got the goal after Johnny Gaudreau’s pass evaded an Italian stick. That was Lee’s third power play goal of the tournament; Italy slipped to eight goals allowed from 13 penalties, by some margin the worst PK figures in the competition.

The final stanza was a lifeless affair. With the result beyond doubt, there was no pressure on the Americans to offer anything other than more of the same. Italy took more than 12 minutes to register its first shot of the session and, when it came, it was from beyond the Italian blue line. Howard proved alert to the test, preserving a shut-out that required just nine saves in total.

"It's hard to get a sense of where your game is right now when you're playing against a team like Italy," Murphy added. "We definitely got a big confidence boost in our last game when we went against a big team, so now we just want things to roll along while we are meshing and clicking without too many hiccups."

Meanwhile, there was little urgency about the USA offence for much of a third period that often felt more like a practice game than a championship encounter. A comfortable American win lifts Jeff Blashill's roster to three wins from four, while Italy is still seeking its first victory of the tournament and lies in last place in the group with a solitary point from its overtime loss to Slovakia.