Welcome to the 2021 World Junior Championship predictions. Each day, Last Word on Hockey will take a look at each game and give our predictions of the results. Saturday, January 2nd is day eight of the tournament. The quarterfinal finals are here. The day concludes with Slovakia vs the United States.
2021 World Junior Championship Predictions
Slovakia vs the United States
It’s win or go home as the 2021 World Junior Championship heads to the knock out stage. The final quarterfinal of the day sees the United States taking on Slovakia. The United States is looking to avenge their sixth-place finish from last season. So far so good as they finished as the top seed in Group B. Meanwhile, Slovakia finished fourth in Group A and their reward as a very strong United States team.
The big story for Slovakia in this tournament has been their goaltending. The duo of Simon Latkoczy and Samuel Hlavaj have given Slovakia a fighting chance in every game they’ve been in. Unfortunately, that is not enough against a highly-skilled United States team. Slovakia was able to get here because of them as Latkoczy got the shutout against Switzerland on the opening day of the tournament. We have seen once the knockout round starts goaltending can be a factor, but they will need to be able to score goals too. And Slovakia just does not have the talent to compete with Team USA.
If they are going to have a chance, players like Martin Chromiak, Roman Faith, Oleksii Mykukha, and Michal Mrazik will have to produce. Unfortunately, through four games, Slovakia has scored just five goals. Meanwhile, Team USA has scored 25 goals in their four games. It is an uphill battle. As we saw in their game against Canada, they were able to keep the game close, but in the end, Canada was just too much for them. However, if they can frustrate Team USA and keep the score close, maybe they have a shot.
The United States
Team USA is finally playing as everyone expected them to at the start of the tournament. After a dominant 4-0 win over Sweden on New Year’s Eve, Team USA won Group B. There was some doubt at the beginning but they finally found their skating legs. All the top players have found their way on the scoresheet and in the goal column. We have yet to see the best from Cole Caufield, Arthur Kaliyev, and Alex Turcotte. Expect to see them come out with an edge. And how about the play of Spencer Knight. After a shaky game against Russia to start the tournament, he has settled down with back-to-back shutouts. The United States has not given up a goal in three straight games. Having Dustin Wolf as a backup has helped Knight settle down.
But make no mistake about it. This is Trevor Zegras‘s team now. Zegras leads the tournament with 13 points (six goals and seven assists). He had nine points last year and all were assists. This year he is shooting more. And it shows. The United States are keeping things much simpler as they are getting pucks deep and shooting every chance they get. In their minds, no shot is a bad shot. And as we saw against Sweden, they scored on a couple of bad angle shots. Look for them to control play from the beginning.
Anything can happen as they say, but this game is pretty academic. Team USA is just too strong for Slovakia. Slovakia can probably keep it close, but Team USA’s talent will take over and this game will be over early. Slovakia has nothing to lose as everyone expects Team USA to roll, so that is when a team is most vulnerable. Unfortunately, Team USA is playing some of their best hockey of the tournament. And they are getting better and better with each passing game. Expect Team USA to get to the semifinals.
Prediction: United States Wins 6-1.
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