Kyle Palmieri, a rookie in his first professional season, is mature enough to know he's not on Team USA to be a checker.
Sure, he does play well away from the puck and has been responsible in his own zone through the Americans' first two games of the World Junior Hockey Championships, but the speedy winger is supposed to provide instant offense to the lineup. That's especially the case now with the injury bug wreaking havoc on coach Keith Allain's forward units.
With the pressure on him to perform Tuesday night, Palmieri delivered during Team USA's throttling of Slovakia, 6-1, at HSBC Arena.
In a game where the Americans were missing key offensive threat Jeremy Morin, Palmieri wasted little time showing the world Old Glory would be OK should it be without the Chicago Blackhawks prospect for a prolonged period of time.
Palmieri scored more goals (two) than the Slovaks had shots (one) in the Americans' dominant first period and chipped in with an assist on the team's third goal. He most definitely was the straw that stirred the drink as the U.S. had its best offensive effort in five games (including three pre-tournament games) since banding together for the tournament nearly two weeks ago.
He more than made up for missing a bunch of quality scoring chances in Sunday's 3-2 overtime win over Finland.
"I knew I had to step up with guys like Morin and [Brock] Nelson out of the lineup," said Palmieri, a first round pick of the Ducks in 2009 who had nine goals and 17 points in 33 games with Notre Dame last season. "I was fortunate enough to get a couple lucky bounces and my linemates were playing well and supporting me pretty well. I think the chemistry I had with my line Going forward I think we can hopefully keep up that energy and hopefully keep up that momentum."
The U.S. looks to keep it going tonight when it faces Germany at HSBC Arena (7 p.m., NHL Network). The United States trails Finland by a point in its group's standings with a game in hand after the Finns trounced Germany, 5-1, Wednesday afternoon at HSBC Arena.
The Americans could be further short-handed, depending on the status of forward Jason Zucker. He frustrated the Slovaks with his speed and relentless pressure on the forecheck to the point where 6-foot-4 Slovak defenseman Marek Marincin KO'd him with a blatant elbow to the head in the third period that drew an automatic five-minute match penalty, game misconduct and suspension. IIHF Tournament Single Disciplinary Judge Dan Marouelli deemed the blow premeditated and tacked on three additional games to the automatic one-game suspension that accompanied the penalty.
Team USA took Wednesday off and Allain didn't provide any updates on the status of his three injured forwards.
He did call the hit on Zucker "a vicious dirty hit." He also voiced his concern Wednesday regarding all the head shots his players have taken in this tournament.
Forward Jerry D'Amigo was drilled in the face with the back of his head slamming into the glass during the first period of Tuesday's game by the Slovaks' Peter Hrasko, who was tossed from the game and will begin a three-game suspension during Slovakia's 3 p.m. game today against Switzerland at HSBC Arena.
"I don't think anyone can watch the tournament and not be concerned," Allain said. "There have been some vicious hits in the tournament and it's not good."
If Morin, Nelson and Zucker aren't available for tonight's game, it means the Americans will look for Palmieri and linemates Charlie Coyle and Chris Kreider to step up even more.
They were buzzing throughout Tuesday's game with Coyle recording a goal and two assists. They were on the ice for two of the team's three power-play goals.
It was just another in a series of big games for Palmieri. He had a team-high eight assists and ranked second in points with nine during last year's run to the gold medal.
He scored in his NHL debut Nov. 3 in an overtime win over Tampa Bay. He netted the game-tying goal late in the third period, proving he's not in awe of key situations.
Still, he admits he was frustrated following Sunday's game -- a contest in which he had three shots, failed to convert a breakaway and missed an open net on another third-period chance. Any of those chances go in the net and overtime wouldn't have been needed.
"He wasn't too happy after the Finland game but he definitely made up for it [Tuesday] and got us off to a great start," forward Drew Shore said.
"Kyle has been terrific for us. He's given us what we hoped he would give us," Allain said.
Palmieri said a talk with the coaches on Monday had a calming influence on him. They reminded him that he was playing the game that the team needed him to play. He was generating the chances and eventually they'd start to go in the net.
They did Tuesday.
"In a short tournament like this you have to have a short memory," said Palmieri, who has nine goals and 13 points in 20 games with Syracuse of the AHL. "You have one bad game, you have to go back out there. You don't have time to sulk about it. You go out there the next night and just keep playing the way you [normally do with energy]. [Tuesday night] I was fortunate to get those lucky bounces that I didn't get the other night. It felt good. It goes a long way toward our confidence as a line and confidence as a team."