Reporting from Vancouver, Canada — Their record in the Olympic hockey tournament is perfect, but their performance has yet to be more than adequate, and members of Team USA knew it.
They foundered through a sloppy second period Thursday and distanced themselves from persistent Norway only by scoring three times in the last six minutes of a 6-1 victory in a preliminary round game at Canada Hockey Place.
Yes, they're 2-0 after defeating Switzerland and Norway, but their power play didn't click until its fifth try and they were victimized by Norway for a short-handed goal that cut their lead to 3-1 at 8:37 of the second period.
The chemistry the U.S. will need against its first tough opponent -- home-country favorite Canada on Sunday -- was visible only sporadically Thursday. A bigger, stronger opponent might have pulled an upset.
"We blame ourselves for the way we played in the second period. It was unacceptable," said Ryan Malone, who made it 4-1 at 14:19 of the third period with his second goal in two games, converting the rebound of a shot by Jack Johnson.
"I think in the third we made sure we were smart with the puck and we didn't give up any odd-man rushes. We just wanted to throw more pucks toward the net in preparation for the game on Sunday."
Coach Ron Wilson broke up his No. 1 line of Paul Stastny, Zach Parise and Patrick Kane late in the third period, around the time the U.S. built its three-goal lead. Jamie Langebrunner replaced Kane, who moved to a line with Ryan Kesler and Bobby Ryan.
"When you're looking for chemistry, trying to create chemistry, sometimes it's not there," Wilson said.
Brian Rafalski scored the last two goals, during a power play at the 17-minute mark and off a blue-line blast with 36.8 seconds left, but this triumph wasn't easily earned.
"I thought we played very well in the first period. Like what happens with any young team, we thought the rest of the game would be easy," Wilson said. "It got to be 3-0 and we gave up too many outnumbered attacks.
"The last 10 minutes of the game we found our game."
Better late than never, but their overall effort wasn't much to brag about.
They did have a good start against Norway, which had shut out Canada for 22 minutes on Tuesday before taking an 8-0 pasting.
Phil Kessel, using the speed that is his greatest asset, took a fine pass from Joe Pavelski, got behind the defense and beat goaltender Pal Grotnes from close range at 2:39.
Chris Drury, whose selection for a third Olympic berth was widely debated because he is no longer the scorer he used to be, demonstrated his scoring touch at 13:04. Ryan Callahan took a shot that Grotnes stopped, but Drury beat defenseman Lars Erik Lund to the rebound.
The U.S. extended its lead to 3-0 at 5:32 of the second period. Parise's initial shot was stopped by Grotnes, but the goalie couldn't control the rebound, which landed to his left. Kane, the top American-born scorer in the NHL, prodded the rebound home.
Marius Holtet gave the many Norway fans in the crowd a huge thrill with his short-handed goal against Ryan Miller. "We had some chances and a little hope at 3-1," Norway Coach Roy Johansen said, "but the third period no doubt about it. They were the best team and they deserved to win."
They were the best team Thursday, but they'll have to rise to a much higher level against Canada on Sunday. "As a hockey player, these are the games you want to play," Malone said, knowing that just playing won't substitute for playing hard and smart.