USA's rout of Slovakia answers many questions
SOCHI, Russia – If there was any doubt about whether U.S. coach Dan Bylsma made the right call on Paul Stastny over Derek Stepan for the No. 4 center spot, it was erased by Stastny's two-goal game in the opener against Slovakia.
Stastny has had a noteworthy season, plus he was arguably of the MVP of the U.S. squad team that won the bronze medal at the world championships last spring.
Stepan seemed to pick up pace as the season wore on, but he doesn't offer the defensive prowess that Stastny commands. Stastny played with Max Pacioretty and T.J. Oshie, and Bylsma sometimes used them against Slovakia's top line.
"We talked about it before the game and how the line could be best line and it turned out to be," Bylsma said.
Other questions answered in Game 1:
Would the USA get enough scoring? That was a question after the USA selection committee decided not to name Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders) and Bobby Ryan (Ottawa Senators) to the roster.
Putting up seven goals against a Zdeno Chara-led Slovakia team seemed to answer that question. The Americans showed a crisp transition game and aggressiveness around the net. Their pace was good, and their puck movement probably will get better as the tournament moves along.
Can Phil Kessel stay hot? He posted a goal and two assists against Slovakia. Counting his last 12 NHL games and his first Olympic game, Kessel has 11 goals and 12 assists in his past 13 games.
He looked like the most dangerous player on the ice. He looks very much like he could be the go-to guy for the USA.
Will Quick have adjustment issues on the wider ice? Jonathan Quick's aggressive goaltending style could have been a problem because the angles are different on the international sheet. But it didn't seem to be an issue.
But the USA's goaltending picture still isn't crystal clear. Bylsma hasn't said whether it's Quick going all the way or whether he will give Ryan Miller a shot against the Russians. Don't forget that Miller was probably the USA's best player in the 2010 silver medal run.
Also don't forget that Canada changed goalies from Martin Brodeur to Roberto Luongo en route to the gold medal in 2010.
Are the Americans ready for Russia? They will need another level of efficiency. The Russians will test the USA's defense more sternly than the Slovaks did. I wouldn't expect Justin Faulk to remain as the odd man out.
Also, Ryan Suter made a rare turnover, resulting in Slovakia's goal. Since he will be playing often against Russian star Alex Ovechkin, Suter will need to be sharper than he was. He will need near-perfection against Russia.