BERNE – USA made sure to score the goals it needed to win the game, then leaned back in anticipation of their game against Russia tomorrow, cruising to a 6-2 win over France, back in the top-12 for the first time since 1997.
As expected, French goaltender Fabrice Lhenry was the busiest player tonight, stopping over 40 shots. David Backes had a three-point night, French captain Laurent Meunier set up both French goals.
"It was one of those nights, I made a couple of plays and was happy to help the team win," Backes says.
If the French had hoped to frustrate the Americans by keeping them off the scoreboard for the entire period, the best they could have done was to stay out of the penalty box.
"We wanted to keep the game close a long time, maybe steal it, you never know. At 4-0 I think our guys came back," Team France coach David Henderson said.
"We didn't expect to take so many penalties in the first period. The American team was faster, quicker and more skilled than we, and they got off to a great start. Our guys got a lot of penalties, deservedly so, they just buried their chances – and missed a few, too," he added.
Unfortunately for the French, they took the first penalty at 3.12 and it took USA just 50 seconds to solve Lhenry and beat him for the first time.
David Backes sent the puck from the right faceoff circle to Kyle Okpose in the slot. As he was about to shoot, he was hooked down, but as he fell onto the ice, he sent the puck to the net with one hand.
The French kept digging a hole for themselves, taking three penalties in four minutes, giving the US a 5-on-3 powerplay chance at the halfway point.
Kevin Backes collected his second point of the night when he deflected TJ Oshie’s shot past Lhenry at 10.38.
The Americans outshot France 20-3 in the first period and frankly, the French got the puck into the American zone only half a dozen times. USA’s goaltender for the night, Al Montoya, kept himself warm by stretching and skating hard to the bench during delayed penalties.
"Is an ideal game more shots, less shots? I guess what matters is how you feel when you get off the ice and how many goals you give up. I really didn't get into the game until the third period," Montoya said.
"There's a new generation of guys coming through this program and it's something special," he added.
The sleepy game got more speed in the second period when the teams scored five goals in seven minutes.
First the US got a 4-0 lead. The first Backes-less goals came at 27.29 when Kevin Ballard’s wrist shot from the blueline caught Lhenry by surprise to make it 4-0, but before that Backes had set up Ryan Shannon for 3-0. Shannon was open in front of the French net and he onetimed Backes’s pass from behind the net.
Even if the French only got 6 shots on goal by the midway point, one of them went in. France had its second powerplay when captain Laurent Meunier got the puck in the corner. He sent it to Jonathan Swikel who did a 360-degree spin, and setna backhander to the net where Yorick Treille tapped the puck in for 4-1.
Just 50 seconds later Patrick O’Sullivan grabbed Dustin Brown’s rebound, Lhenry made a pad save, but O’Sullivan sent the second rebound to the back of the net with a backhander, his back to the net.
Drew Stafford was sent to the penalty box in the next shift, and during the ensued powerplay, France got a 2-on-1 attack. Meunier carried the puck to the American zone, faked a shot and instead, sent a pass to Pierre Edouard Bellemare to the far post. He had an easy task putting the puck into the net to bring France within three goals, 5-2. Goaltender Lhenry collected an assist on the play.
In the third period, Team USA got another two-man advantage. Dustin Brown and John Michael Liles got the puck to Jack Johnson on the point, and he fired a slapshot that beat Lhenry low on the gloveside to make it 6-2.
"We did what we wanted to do, we won a hockey game. Hopefully we didn't let too many bad habits to creep in because tomorrow we'll play a really good team," Team USA head coach Ron Wilson said, referring to their game against Russia.
"Tomorrow, Robert Esche is going to play. We wanted to give Montoya a chance, we kind of expected this kind of a game. Al sacrificed his time to come here and we wanted to make sure he saw at least some action," he added.