U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield and defender Lee Stecklein both scored twice as the Americans completed their perfect Group A run with a 10-0 pounding of Russia on Tuesday.
The U.S. will face Japan in the quarter-finals on Thursday, while the Russians take on Switzerland.
"I think it's going to be really exciting," Stecklein said. "I don't know if I've personally played Japan since maybe in U18's. But they've come a long way as a program. We got to watch a little bit of their game before. They definitely look fast. We'll definitely have to watch some film and see what we've got coming."
Japan and the U.S. have only met twice before in senior IIHF competition. The U.S. won 10-0 at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan and 8-0 at the 2009 Women's Worlds in Hameenlinna, Finland.
The Group A-leading Americans have a goal difference of 27-4 in their four wins. It’s been a smooth Women’s Worlds debut for U.S. head coach Bob Corkum so far.
Brianna Decker had a goal and an assist, and Amanda Kessel, Cayla Barnes, Megan Bozek, Hilary Knight, and Melissa Samoskevich also scored for the Americans. Annie Pankowski chipped in three assists and Alex Carpenter had two assists. Top U.S. goalie Alex Rigsby claimed her third career Women's Worlds shutout as the Americans outshot Russia 44-12.
"That's a pretty shameful score right now," said Russia's Alexandra Vafina. "I know this is the game and we still have to learn, but it's not like what we need to accept, because this is the World Championship. This game is what we worked for all year. So I'm really upset about the score."
It bodes well for America in case these sides meet again in the semi-finals. The U.S. has now beaten Russia 14 straight times at the Women’s Worlds by a combined total of 130-8.
As against Canada, the Russians simply couldn’t keep up with the torrid pace their North American opponents set. Except this was even more overwhelming."I really liked our second and third periods, especially the way we were moving the puck and trying new things, definitely working on timing and chemistry," Stecklein said. "It was exciting to see some things come together."
The U.S. showcased its trademark playmaking on its opening marker at 2:07. From behind the goal line, Kelly Pannek found Carpenter in the left faceoff circle, and she sent it to Kessel at the edge of the crease for the tap-in.
At 13:44, defender Barnes, a 20-year-old 2018 Olympic gold medalist who entered this game with three assists, waltzed in and flung a high shot past Russian starter Valentina Merkusheva’s blocker for her first career Women’s Worlds goal.
Just 17 seconds later, Coyne Schofield capitalized on a Russian turnover and blitzed in to score five-hole.
In the second period, the U.S. defence continued to get involved. First, Bozek fired a howitzer from the blue line past Merkusheva’s glove at 3:50 for a 4-0 lead. Then, Stecklein pinched in to convert Sydney Brodt’s centering pass from the corner at 8:18. It was Stecklein’s first goal in 22 career Women's Worlds games (in fact, her first ever in IIHF competition), and she still had more in store.
Coyne Schofield was happy to see her Minnesota Whitecaps teammate get that first goal: "I think it comes as a surprise for a lot of us, just because of what she contributes every day to this program. It's awesome to see a win like this, for everybody to contribute, and going into the quarter-finals."
"It felt really good," Stecklein said. "It always feels good to score. I will say, though, that the team internally, you never feel like you're less than if you haven't gotten one. We're really good about supporting every role, no matter what it is. It's something we work really hard at to make sure everyone feels valued. I've always felt valued, but it is still really fun to score. It puts a smile on my face."
Knight made it 6-0 on a Carpenter set-up at 12:41, although that was only verified after a lengthy video review.
Russia’s being thoroughly outmatched was underscored by the fact it was already 6-0 when the Russians took their first two minors of the game back-to-back late in the second period. Poor discipline was not to blame.
Coyne Schofield made it 7-0 with 53 seconds left in the middle frame. The Americans moved the puck around with magical flair, as Decker sent it down to Pankowski and she found the speedy captain for a hair-trigger release.
Coyne Schofield, who currently leads her team with seven points, said there was no room for complacency: "There's so much to do to get better. We didn't spend much time in our D-zone, so I'm sure we'll work on that. But it's taking away the positives, looking at the film, and seeing what we can do better, because you can always get better, especially at this level."
In the third period, Decker showed the benefit of going to the dirty areas as she got flattened in front but converted a nice Pankowski feed at 6:01 preceded by some dipsy-doodling. Veteran defender Kacey Bellamy, returning to the lineup after resting against Switzerland, drew the second assist.
Stecklein made it 9-0 at 12:11 on a video-reviewed play. And Samoskevich added her second of the tournament with 2:48 left to round out the scoring.
"They have quick feet," Vafina said of the Americans. "We need to adjust to that game. Probably we need more games with them during the season, maybe. I am really amazed by their game. We still have a lot of work to do."
It was not the largest margin of defeat ever in a Russia-U.S. game. The Americans beat Russia 15-0 at the 2000 Women's Worlds.
At least the Russians didn't allow the U.S. to score twice in six seconds, as Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson did in Olympic record-setting fashion last year in a 5-0 group win prior to capturing the PyeongChang gold medal.
Coach Alexei Chistyakov's group will just have to put this shellacking behind them as they prepare to meet the Swiss, whom they edged 2-1 in the round-robin.