By John Wawrow – AP News
Goalie Nicole Hensley was fine with the United States having difficulty finding its offense through two periods before finally pulling away with a 5-0 win over the Russians on Saturday night.
So long as Hensley kept stopping every shot, the outcome wasn’t in jeopardy for the defending Olympic champions.
“They made it a really hard game, really frustrating for us,” said Hensley, who stopped 12 shots in her 2022 tournament debut at the Beijing Games.
“And I think for us, a little adversity is not a bad thing in a tournament like this to have to get through that,” she added. “If anything, it’s just going to bring us closer together.”
The U.S. (2-0) next plays Switzerland (0-2) on Sunday.
Hilary Knight had a goal and assist, with her no-look backhand pass through the crease setting up Savannah Harmon’s opening goal in the first period. Knight then scored in the second to give her team some breathing room, before the Americans broke things open with three goals in a five-minute span in the third.
Harmon had a goal and two assists, and Grace Zumwinkle, Jesse Compher and Alex Carpenter scored in a game played before a small but vocally pro-Russian crowd.
The U.S. outshot the Russians 62-12 but had difficulty finishing with top-line center Brianna Decker watching on crutches after breaking her ankle in a tournament-opening win over Finland.
Maria Sorokina was exceptional in stopping 37 of the first 39 shots she faced, and 38 overall before being pulled after Carpenter made it 5-0 with 11:16 remaining. Daria Gredzen mopped up by stopping 19 shots for the Russians, who fell to 1-1.
“The start was really good and I guess we were too long in our zone and our ‘D’ got tired. Our goalie got tired, but she played really good,” Russian forward Alexandra Vafina said. “We felt really good. But you know, it’s a game and we are humans and sometimes we make mistakes.”
The U.S. gained the edge during a two-minute span in the second period beginning with Hensley kicking out her left pad to stop Polina Luchnikova’s shot from the slot.
Knight and captain Kendall Coyne Schofield then took over at the other end by leaning on their puck-possession ability to wear down the Russians’ defense. That led to Knight tipping in Harmon’s shot from the blue line.
“Their goaltender played pretty well tonight. She was big for them, and we just had to find a way. It doesn’t always look pretty,” Knight said. “It’s great to kind of learn how to work our way through these different issues, whatever dilemma that may present during a game.”
Knight’s assist was her 13th in four Olympic appearances, moving her into second on the U.S. women’s career list, one ahead of Julie Chu. She also upped her career point total to 20, fourth on the U.S. list and two ahead of Cammi Granato.
The U.S. has yet to allow a goal in three Olympic meetings against a Russia-based team. Add in world championship matchups, and the U.S. extended its string to eight consecutive shutouts.
The last goal the U.S. allowed to a Russian team came in a 13-1 win at the 2015 world championships.
Decker was hurt while being tripped from behind in a 5-2 win Thursday. The three-time Olympian remains with the team, and tests showed no structural damage to her knee, which bent awkwardly as she went down.
Abby Roque took her spot on a line featuring wings Carpenter and Amanda Kessel. The Americans are considering flying in one of their final roster cuts.
Coach Joel Johnson said he’s still working through different line combinations to determine what chemistry works best in a tournament in which all five Group A teams advance to the quarterfinal round.
“There’s no replacing Brianna Decker with one individual player. But we can replace her and what she does well with a lot of different people. And so that’s what we’re going to try to do,” Johnson said.
The Russian team was greeted by cheers from the small crowd of spectators allowed to attend, while the fans were mostly silent when the Americans took the ice before the opening faceoff. One section just left of the U.S. bench featured fans with large Russian flags.