International Ice Hockey Federation

Hayes and Skjei a help

Gaudreau curates 6-1 drubbing of Slovaks

Published 15.05.2017 00:02 GMT+2 | Author John Sanful
Hayes and Skjei a help
COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 14: USA fans cheering on their team during preliminary round action against Slovakia at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Firing on all cylinders, Team USA net six in rout of Slovaks. Johnny Gaudreau's two goals cap impressive win.

The win now gives the United States 15 points in Group A, setting up a final showdown against Russia on Tuesday at LANXESS Arena.

The Americans are playing with confidence and skill. It showed today in all areas of the ice. While they had more than a few turnovers and gave the Slovaks some key chances, Team USA played well and capitalized on theirs. 

"Slovakia is a well structured team and hard to play against." USA Head coach Jeff Blashill said. "One thing we have to clean up is puck management and turning pucks over."

Clayton Keller continued his torrid scoring at 8:12 of the opening period. The Americans worked the puck deep and got a good effort by Anders Lee behind the net. Lee sent a pass in front that Keller picked up and converted for his sixth goal of the World Championship. Brady Skjei also picked up an assist.

Skjei and Kevin Hayes played their first game for Team USA and both were active in the period.

"I thought both played well tonight especially having traveled yesterday." Blashill said. "Brady is a heck of a defenseman. They are two good pieces to add to a solid core."

Skjei got the offence started early with one of the first few shots the Americans generated in the game. The puck was saved but Hayes tried to bat the rebound in. Although he didn’t parlay the opportunity, Hayes was a constant presence in the offensive zone. Both players combined for three shots in the first period.

Skjei also added a strong defensive play to strip Andrej Kudrna, preventing him from taking a shot and breaking up a possible Slovakia scoring chance.

Skjei was paired with smooth skating Charlie McAvoy and Hayes played on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Nick Bjugstad. 

At one point in the first period, Slovak was outshot 9-2 by the Americans but over the remainder of the period reversed the tide going 5-1. Still, Jimmy Howard, making his fourth start, was alert and ready.

The Johnny Gaudreau show began in the second period as he scored a goal and assisted on another. The line of Gaudreau, Bjugstad and Hayes was highly effective every time they were on the ice and among the most commanding skaters throughout the game.

"Kevin and Johnny played together at Boston College and Bjugstad was good on that line as well." Blashill said.

Gaudreau made it 2-0 with some impressive passing by Team USA. Bjugstad sent a pass to Gaudreau who found Hayes who then sent it back to Gaudreau who expertly fired it home.

Slovakia scored with 9:20 remaining in the second to edge back in the game. Libor Hudacek skated around Trevor van Riemsdyk for a shot that Howard saved but Martin Gernat collected the rebound and directed a backhander to make it 2-1. 

Over the next few minutes Slovakia would elevate their game and start a surge. Michel Miklik got a shot off that was saved about a minute after the goal and then Marcel Hascak tried to find Mario Bliznak in the slot but Howard broke it up with a handy stick check.

Team USA recaptured the momentum. Applying pressure in the Slovak zone, Christian Dvorak scored on give-and-go with Gaudreau. Dvorak took the pass of his skate to stick for a backhander upstairs. 

Jacob Trouba slipped another past beleaguered Slovak goaltender Julius Hudacek. Hudacek misplayed a puck near his net and could not clear it around the boards then Michal Sersen also had trouble with it, allowing Trouba to gain control and sent perfectly placed shot through the small hole offered by Hudacek with 1:59 left in the period.

"They were much better team more speed all over the ice and hard to play against strong teams." Slovak head coach Zdeno Ciger said. "We came in hard but after they scored we got nervous and made too many mistakes."

Gaudreau's second tally came courtesy of Hayes who intercepted a Slovakian pass in the neutral zone and skated it in the zone and finding his linemate.

Anders Lee scored another to widen the lead to five goals en route to the win. Team USA is strong, very strong, and have developed a certain on ice chemistry that is hard not to notice. Head coach Jeff Blashill must be encouraged with his team's effort so far but will learn a lot more come Tuesday.

"Against Russia we have to limit the  time and space as much as we can, even though that's difficult on the bigger ice here." Skjei said. "When those guys get time to make plays they've got a ton of skill. We have to limit that and counter with our skill, it should make it a good game."