Olympics: Malone scores, Crosby shines
Sidney Crosby congratulates Canada linemate Jarome Iginla on the second of his three goals Tuesday.
Ryan Malone is congratulated at the U.S. bench after his second-period goal against Switzerland Tuesday.
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The kid from Pittsburgh had a fine debut for the United States.
And the Kid did likewise for Canada.
Ryan Malone became the first Western Pennsylvania native to score a goal in Olympic hockey, as the United States fended off Switzerland, 3-1, in its opener Tuesday afternoon at Canada Hockey Place.
"A great feeling," Malone called it.
Hours later, Sidney Crosby, taking to a national stage in prime time, fulfilled any reasonable expectation -- though those are rare north of the border as related to hockey -- by setting up all three of Jarome Iginla's goals in Canada's 8-0 rout of Norway. Crosby also generated three shots, several other chances for teammates and, all told, was visibly his team's most dynamic forward.
"It's something to build on, for all of us," Crosby said. "We'll see what happens, where we go, but it's really nice to get that first one."
The outcomes for all three opening games -- Russia blew away Latvia, 8-2, early this morning, with a goal and assist from Evgeni Malkin -- were eminently predictable. Thus, their greatest value was in getting the players' legs loose and establishing timing.
For the Americans, both facets were a struggle: Their team speed, which might be the tournament's best, was evident only in spurts. And the lack of familiarity was evident by huge gaps between defensemen and forwards on breakouts.
Add to that a sluggish sheet of ice, and it looked mostly ugly.
"Yeah, it was at times," Malone said. "But you know, the more we play, the smoother the transition game will get. Everything will get better."
"We had one practice here, and everyone felt kind of awful after the travel we had," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's going to take time. That game was ... there were some jitters out there, and the ice wasn't that great, either. It's good to get this one over with."
Bobby Ryan's wrister in the first period and David Backes' coast-to-coast rush early in the second brought the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Malone, born and raised in Upper St. Clair and now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, scored at 8:25 of that period on the power play, poking the rebound of a Ryan Suter point shot past goaltender Jonas Hiller.
He animatedly pumped his fist with that.
"Kind of a fluky goal there, but I'll take it," Malone said. "The whole thing was fun to watch, actually. Guys were making plays, taking bodies, and we're hopefully going to keep improving as we go. You could feel there was a lot of pride out there."
Perhaps most important for the U.S. was that Ryan Miller looked sharp in goal, this despite frequent defensive lapses. He was credited with only 14 saves but stood tall in the face of several point-blank chances and bouncing pucks.
This was a Switzerland team with only two NHL players -- Hiller among them -- but the Swiss beat Canada and the Czech Republic four years ago in Turin, Italy.
Still, the U.S. will need a sharp upgrade: After Norway, Canada is next.
"We didn't have much left in the third period," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "We were actually hanging on a bit."
The Canadians looked no less sluggish in a scoreless first period against Norway, the lowest regarded team in the tournament, and that certainly could not have been because of the atmosphere.
In a scene befitting the arrival of rock stars or royalty, Canada took the ice amid a deafening roar and a sea of red, with the majority wearing not just the colors but authentic, personalized Team Canada sweaters. Most of those were bearing Crosby's No. 87.
"It was a great atmosphere," Crosby said. "It's a lot of fun to be here in Canada."
Crosby ignited his team and reignited the crowd by setting up Iginla's power-play goal at 2:30 of the second: On the power play, he held the puck in the left circle, surveyed his options and, once Iginla drifted back in the slot, fed him for a one-timer.
Goals by Dany Heatley and Mike Richards soon made it 3-0 and, by the time it was done, every skater on Canada's roster except three would wind up with a point, a sign of the team's remarkable depth.
Crosby's other points were second assists, those on a tic-tac-toe play for Iginla fed neatly by Rick Nash, then on Iginla's deflection of a Nash wrister.
A 42-goal man with the Penguins since committing more to shooting, Crosby appeared to be back in pass-first mode at times, but he flatly rejected that this was his mindset.
"Oh, not at all," Crosby said. "There are a lot of great players out there, and these guys are so quick. They move into those areas and are open a lot. I'm just looking to make the right play."
Crosby opened on a line with Nash and Patrice Bergeron, but Bergeron gave way to Iginla. That trio was the original when Canada had its brief camp last summer in Calgary, Alberta, and, based on early results, coach Mike Babcock strongly suggested afterward it can be expected to stick.
"We've had a little experience together, and I think that made a difference," Crosby said.
"As the game went on, it got better," Iginla said.
Russia's opponent, Latvia, performed better than Switzerland or Norway, but the Russians and their superb collection of forwards -- the best anyone showed on the day -- had their way.
Alexander Ovechkin and Danis Zaripov each scored twice. Former Penguins winger Aleksey Morozov had the final goal.
"There's a lot of talent up front," Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar said, before adding of Malkin and Ovechkin, "Playing the first game, they were excited, so they were flying."
Malkin began the game ablaze, barreling through his teammates nearly as much as the Latvians. He also generally clicked with linemates Ilya Kovalchuk -- setting up a Kovalchuk goal in the third -- and Maxim Afinogenov, and he was able to work often with Gonchar, as Russians prefer to work with five-man units.
"The whole team played really well," Malkin said. "We have a great line, we played hard, and it was a really good start."
Malkin's goal came late in the second, as he backhanded a bouncing rebound behind Edgars Masalskis to put Russia ahead, 4-0.
The U.S., Canada and Russia resume play Thursday.
First Published February 17, 2010 1:06 am