The United States looked to add to the five points they've gathered from a 6-0 victory over Germany last night and a two-point shootout win over Finland earlier in the tournament. Slovakia managed to beat Finland in regulation in their round robin game against last year's champion, getting a massive three-point cushion in a potential battle for the final quarter-final spot in Group A. Erik Cernak, a 2015 draft eligible defenceman for the Slovaks, was not able to participate in the game after being suspended for a high hit at the end of his last game. Slovakia will look for more success against a US team that has only given up one goal so far in the tournament.
The US controlled the possession in the first period, but did very little with the puck in the offensive zone. A missed shot by Sonny Milano on a cross-crease pass and a late period wrap-around from Dylan Larkin were USA's only real scoring opportunities in the period. Slovakia showed great defensive positioning and active sticks to do a great job of preventing anything more dangerous in their end.
The best opportunity to score in the frame occurred at the other end of the ice as Matus Sukel had a close-in shot from a pass from below the goalline that required a quick save from Thatcher Demko.
Slovakia had a powerplay chance resulting from what looked like a perfectly legal centre ice body check. The players largely stayed close to the boards with the man advantage, with Martin Reway standing about as far from the net as he could possibly get on the blueline. That positioning doesn't make optimal use of the offensive talents of Slovakia's powerplay quarterback, who has accumulated sixteen assists in twenty-two games in the Czech Extraliga.
The play opened up in the second period with teams trading rushes in the first ten minutes, with the advantage going to the more skilled Americans in that situation, who created several good opporunities. Denis Godla, who has been played consistently well in Slovakia's first three games, stopped chances generated both from American attacks and misplays from his own defencemen.
The US turned up the heat in the second half, controlling the play in the offensive zone and not allowing Slovakia anything offensively. The increased pressure finally forced Godla to crack, being just out of position enough for Sonny Milano to open the scoring from the goalline with just over two minutes left in the period.
Milano had a great chance to add to the lead off a pass from Larkin behind to net to the slot to begin the third, but Godla made another great save to temporarily hold the lead to one. Larkin followed the play and retrieved the puck off the rebound, sending another shot into the net from the goalline to put his team up by two.
Slovakia was prevented from getting any offensive opportunities as the US maintained possession of the puck for the majority of the period. The Americans had several more great scoring chances, all of which Godla was able to turn aside before allowing a last minute goal to John Hayden.
Slovakia will play its final round robin game tomorrow against a German team that hasn't managed to score any goals in the tournament so far. The three points they have from their victory of Finland could mean they need just a single point to gain a spot in the quarter-finals, depending on how Germany fares versus the Finns.
The United States will take on Canada in what will likely be a first-place showdown on New Year's Eve.