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2020 World Juniors Recap Day 4: USA defeats Russia in best game of tournament so far

Finland cruised to another easy win.

ANDREA CARDIN / HHOF-IIHF IMAGES

Only two games were on the schedule for Day 4 of the 2020 World Juniors. Finland won their second straight game in a rout-like fashion over Kazakhstan, while the United States emerged victorious over their Russian rivals.

Canada Roster Update

Team Canada practiced on Sunday, but Alexis Lafreniere (2020), who was injured in Saturday’s game against Russia, watched from the sidelines. The good news was that he wasn’t on crutches, and the MRI he underwent following the game was negative and showed no structural damage or tears. However, Canada will hold him out of their game today against Germany as they assess whether Lafreniere is able to return to game action at the tournament.

The IIHF handed down a suspension to returning player Joe Veleno (DET), for a headbutt in Saturday’s blowout loss.

That means Canada will be down to 11 forwards against Germany, which obviously isn’t ideal. They do still have seven defensemen though, so maybe they try Jamie Drysdale (2020) on the fourth line.

Anyways, onto yesterday’s games!

Game One: Finland 7, Kazakhstan 1

SOG: FIN — 34, KAZ — 22
PP: FIN — 2/5, KAZ — 1/9
Players of the Game: FIN — Patrik Puistola (CAR), KAZ — Yusup Asukhanov

The weekend saw Finland complete back-to-back routs, against Slovakia on Saturday and Kazakhstan on Sunday. Although Kazakhstan kept the game close at the start, Finland eventually pulled away and put the game out of reach. Winless through three games, Kazakhstan will be bound for the relegation round for the second straight year.

The Game

Patrik Puistola (CAR) opened the scoring for Finland about six minutes in on the power play, deflecting a shot from Ville Heinola (WPG):

There were quite a few penalties taken in the first period, and Kazakhstan tied the game up on their own power play, thanks to an incredible shot from Andrei Buyalsky:

Kristian Tanus got a piece of a shot from Joonas Oden to restore Finland’s lead:

Matias Maccelli gave Finland a two-goal lead, again on the power play:

Finland’s brothers Aku Raty (ARI) and Aatu Raty (2021) connected for the 4-1 goal:

Oden found Puistola with a pass on a 2-on-1, and Puistola buried the puck to make it 5-1:

Mikko Kokkonen’s (TOR) shot finds its way through traffic and past Kazakh goalie Roman Kalmykov to make it 6-1:

And Kim Nousiainen (LA) finished off the scoring late in the third period:

The line of Joonas Oden, Patrik Puistola, and Kristian Tanus was the Finland’s best in this game. They combined for three of the goals in this game and looked dangerous on every shift.

Undisciplined Play

Finland took nine penalties in this game, all two-minute minors, including four in the second period. They were lucky that they were playing a weaker team in Kazakhstan, because the score could have been a lot closer. The amount of times the penalty box song played in this game was getting slightly ridiculous. Five of the penalties taken by the Finns were by defensemen. They have to stay more disciplined as they close out the round robin against Switzerland on Tuesday.

Kazakhstan took five penalties of their own, as the referees seemed determined to call anything that seemed to cross the line. Things got more physical in the third period, and Kazakh players seemed to be more willing to throw hits or collide with Finnish players than trying to play hockey. Although they don’t have a chance to advance to the quarterfinals, they still have one more round robin game to play today against Sweden. If Kazakhstan wants to avoid being relegated to Division 1A, they have to stay disciplined, especially against whomever they end up playing in the relegation round.

Game Two: USA 3, Russia 1

SOG: USA — 24, RUS — 26
PP: USA — 1/6, RUS — 0/5
Players of the Game: USA — Spencer Knight (FLA), RUS — Alexander Romanov (MTL)

For the first half of this game, it was an extremely tight checking affair. The first goal of the game wasn’t even scored until four minutes left in the second period. There were ample opportunities for both teams to open the scoring, though, as nine minor penalties were called before USA broke through on the tenth power play of the game.

The Game

Arthur Kaliyev (LA) finished off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Trevor Zegras (ANA) to give USA the first goal of the game:

Six seconds later, Oliver Wahlstrom (NYI) and Nick Robertson (TOR) came down straight off the center ice faceoff. Wahlstrom fed Robertson with a pass, and Robertson got just enough of the puck to direct it past Russian goalie Amir Miftakhov:

1:20 into the third period, Kaliyev skated his way into the Russian zone and ripped a shot that squeaked through Miftakhov. That would be the end of his night, and Yaroslav Askarov (2020) entered the game:

Russia’s lone goal of the game came from defenseman Alexander Romanov (MTL). His partner, Danila Zhuravlyov (COL) started the play, and he fed Romanov for the one-time blast that beat US goalie Spencer Knight (FLA):

Russia tried desperately to tie the game, but they weren’t able to beat Knight again. The United States played their best game of the tournament so far, and it was an excellent defensive showing by them. Russia had five opportunities to score on the man-advantage, but USA shut them down, often sacrificing their bodies to block shots on multiple occasions. USA’s penalty kill was brutal against Canada and Germany, and they entered this game with the worst PK% of the tournament. The shorthanded performance they displayed tonight was something USA desperately needed, and they pulled it off in brilliant fashion.

Russia’s Snakebitten Power Play

Although USA’s penalty kill was perfect, Russia has been having trouble producing on the man-advantage since the tournament began. In fact, they haven’t scored a power play goal yet, which is baffling. They have so much talent and offensive instincts, and yet, their power play looks bad. They’re missing the net, or having trouble getting set up in the offensive zone, or trying too hard to make the perfect play.

Russia hasn’t changed their power play units, at least to start games, but you’d have to think that it’s coming. Valeri Bragin could only just shake his head as he saw his team get stifled on the power play for a third straight game. Are they just overthinking their plays? Is it bad puck luck? On one particular power play in this game, Russia spent far too much time circling in the neutral zone trying to figure out the best way to enter the offensive zone, and killed off about 15 seconds of their own power play.

Russia has to figure out how to get their power play going, because it’s going to end up costing them a medal at this point — and it definitely cost them the win yesterday.

Group B Implications

The United States were the first team in Group B to get to two wins in the round robin. USA’s win puts Canada (yes, Canada) firmly in control of their own destiny, despite the thrashing they endured at the hands of Russia the other day. If they can win their final two games against Germany and the Czech Republic, Canada will win Group B.

USA also helped their chances by defeating Russia, because they’re now poised to finish second in the group (barring any more upsets). There’s also a chance they could finish first, if Canada drops either of their last two games (which is an unlikely but still very real possibility), and finishes with less points in the round robin than USA.

There’s still way too much hockey to be played to know who’s likely relegation-bound to play Kazakhstan. It really could be anyone at this point, which makes all of Group B’s games in the next two days critical. USA will finish their round robin games later today against the Czech Republic, while Russia has the day off before finishing out their round robin against Germany on New Year’s Eve.

Today’s Games

(All times ET, games with Bolts prospects bolded)

9:00am — Kazakhstan vs. Sweden
9:00am — Germany vs. Canada
1:00pm — Slovakia vs. Switzerland
1:00pm — USA vs. Czech Republic

This recap was compiled with information from IIHF game sheets, Twitter, and TSN.