Toronto Maple Leaf fans probably could have seen this coming when Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk were named to Team USA’s Olympic roster.
The leaders of one of the best lines in the NHL carried their momentum in the opening game of the Olympics for Team USA as they combined for five points in a 7-1 win over Slovakia.
Kessel led the way for the Americans recording a goal and two assists while van Riemsdyk finished with two assists as the duo have swapped their Toronto teammate and center Tyler Bozak to play between Joe Pavelski during the Olympics. If there were any doubts early on that the pair wouldn’t be able to carry over their chemistry playing with a new center, they were quickly put to rest given the dominating performance by the Maple Leaf wingers.
Kessel and van Riemsdyk couldn’t have entered the games any hotter as since the calendar flipped to 2014 they’ve combined for 46 points in 19 games in the New Year. With those type of numbers it shouldn’t be surprising that both players are having career years as van Riemsdyk has already set new totals for goals and points in a season while Kessel is on pace for the first 40-goal campaign of his career.
Unlike Team Canada who was largely concerned with how their forwards would handle the bigger international-sized ice, Team USA had no such worries with the American Maple Leaf wingers. Their strong skating and offensive abilities have only been enhanced with more room to maneuver on the ice which will make them that much harder to contain defensively. It’s hard for NHL defensemen to contain the duo on North American ice where they are allowed to be much more physical against the pair, but since the bigger ice doesn’t allow for nearly as much physicality as seen in the NHL, the Maple Leafs will have even more room to skate past defenders and look for scoring opportunities.
Many wondered if Kessel and van Riemsdyk could carry their strong play across the globe, but those questions have been answered and the rest of the competition has officially been put on notice.