Winter Olympics 2014 Men's Hockey: USA vs Slovakia

Bruce Bennett

The United States kicks off its tournament with a tough matchup against a shorthanded Slovak squad

Team USA kicks off its quest for a first Olympic gold medal in men's hockey since the introduction of NHL players with a difficult task against a Slovakia team in transition. The Slovaks are anchored by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who has been in Sochi for a week now as his country's torch-bearer. He will be partnered by Carolina's Andrej Sekera, who has been maybe the most underrated blueliner in the NHL this year. Expect that pairing to play upwards of 27 minutes in this one, as the depth drops off considerably after that. Up front, the loss of Marian Gaborik hurts - as does having an aged Michael Handzus as a number one centre - but behind Jaroslav Halak, this team has an outside shot at an upset.

For the Americans, the key will be to find chemistry early on. Rather than a gimme game against a Slovenia or Austria, the United States must kick off against a formidable foe, one which was only a bounce or two away from playing for gold in 2010. That said, the US is the heavy favourite. Look out for Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, who has recovered from injury and is expected to play on a line with Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, and the always dangerous Patrick Kane. Jonathan Quick, surprisingly, gets the start in goal for the red, white, and blue, despite boasting a save percentage worse than Devan Dubnyk over the past two regular seasons. We'll see if he's the number one going forward, but he struggles, that could be the opening the Slovaks need to pounce.

Early-tournament lines are always prone to change in minutes, but here is how the two teams lined up in practice.

United States

Pacioretty - Kesler - Kane

van Riemsdyk - Pavelski - Kessel

Parise - Backes - Callahan

Brown - Stastny - Oshie

Stepan - Wheeler


Suter - Shattenkirk

McDonagh - Carlson

Orpik - Martin

Fowler - Faulk


Quick

Miller

Howard


Slovakia

Tatar - Handzus - Hossa

Radivojevic - Kopecky - Jurco

Bartovic - Surovy - Miklik

Panik - Marcinko - Hossa

Olvecky - Zaborsky


Chara - Sekera

Meszaros - Baranka

Marincin - Jurcina

Starosta - Vydardeny


Halak

Budaj

Laco

Puck drop is at 7:30 am EST on CBC, and you can stream it live here. It is also available in French. If you have an American IP you can watch the game here. You can find the game on TV in Canada via CBC, and in the United States on NBC Sports Network.

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