U.S. drops Slovenia behind Kessel's hat trick, faces Canada next

5/7/2008 - NHL

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- Phil Kessel had a hat trick and the United States scored three power-play goals in a 5-1 win over Slovenia in a preliminary round game of the world championships on Sunday night.

The Boston Bruins forward scored twice with the man advantage in the second, then added his third of the game on an even-strength tally 9 minutes into the third.

"It was nice," Kessel said of scoring at even strength. "It's a big part of the game. It's been a lot of power plays out here, so you have to convert on those. But it's nice to get those 5-on-5 goals. Hopefully, we'll get rolling."

David Booth and Calder Trophy nominee Patrick Kane also scored for the United States.

On Friday, the U.S. went 4-for-9 on the power play in a 4-0 win against Latvia.

"It has been a big key," United States coach John Tortorella said of the team's strong power play. "It has been patient. It has won battles to keep some puck possessions, and we scored some big goals."

"It's probably just one of those things. We've had a ton of chances, and haven't been able to score," U.S. captain Jeff Halpern said about the team's lack of production at even strength. "We need to get to the net a little more. Maybe be a little bit hungrier. But for the most part, we've gotten the chances, and with the track record with most of the guys in the locker room, the goals will come."

Anze Kopitar scored for Slovenia with 3:24 left in the second period on Sunday.

Next up for the United States is a matchup with rival Canada on Tuesday. Both teams are 2-0, and the winner will get the top spot for Group B.

"Let's face it, Canada is a helluva hockey club," Tortorella said. "We just looked forward to the opportunity, and we'll see where we go."

In the other Group B game, Dany Heatley had a goal and three assists to lead Canada to a 7-0 win over Latvia.

Heatley moved past Steve Yzerman as Canada's top career scorer at this event in the modern era. He has 40 points in 36 world championship games, which puts him one ahead of his team's GM.

Rick Nash added two goals while Patrick Sharp, Martin St. Louis and Chris Kunitz also scored for Canada.

"They were tap-ins," Nash said of his goals. "It was great passes from [Ryan] Getzlaf and Heatley. If I miss those, something's wrong."

Heatley has found chemistry with Nash and Getzlaf.

"That line has been phenomenal," captain Shane Doan said. "The best part about it is that we still have two or three other lines that are still going to get going. That's the part that makes Canada so dangerous."

Goaltender Pascal Leclaire stopped all 29 shots he faced during his first start of the tournament.

"The lights just got a little bit brighter," coach Ken Hitchcock said of the pressure after the NHL's Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday night. "We'll deal with it the best way we can.

"The players show up at this thing and they're grateful for the chance but they're a little down, especially the guys that got knocked out in the first round [of the NHL playoffs]. Now everybody's pretty jacked up."

Sharp got things going quickly when he picked up a rebound and beat goalie Edgars Masalskis 2:35 into the game. He scored 36 goals for the Chicago Blackhawks this season, but is part of the fourth line for Canada.

Nash, St. Louis and Kunitz scored in a span of 2:42 to start the second period, prompting Latvian coach Olegs Znaroks to call a timeout and replace Masalskis in goal with Sergejs Naumovs.

In a Group D game in Quebec City, Alexei Morozov scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime, to send Russia past the Czech Republic 5-4 in overtime. Sergei Zinoviev, Konstantin Gorovikov and Konstantin Korneyev had the other goals for Russia (2-0). Patrik Elias scored three power-play goals for the Czech Republic (1-1), which held a 43-27 edge in shots on goal. Alex Kotalik had the other goal.

In the other Group D game, Denmark defeated Italy 6-2. Morten Green had a goal and three assists. Kim Staal had a goal and two assists, while Jannik Hansen, Daniel Nielsen, Jesper Damgaard and Kaspar Degn also scored for Denmark. Jason Cirone and Nicola Fontanive scored for Italy.

The tournament is being played in Canada for the first time.