Day Four of the 2022 World Junior Championships (hopefully) returns with a four-game slate after the United States had COVID cases that forced them to forfeit yesterday’s scheduled game against Switzerland. The USA hopes to return for the last game of the day against Sweden. However, our focus now turns to the second game of the day, between Slovakia and Russia.
2022 World Junior Championships Predictions
Slovakia vs. Russia
UPDATE: Russia forfeits today’s game against Slovakia due to positive COVID tests within the Russian team. By rule, Slovakia wins 1-0 by Russian forfeit.
Russia and Slovakia haven’t met up during the past two tournaments. It will be a lot of fresh faces on either side when these two teams square off. The Russians are 1-1-0-0 to start the round-robin with some underwhelming play in both games. They’ve been outscored 8-7 throughout the tournament. A 6-3 beatdown at the hands of Sweden and a rather unconvincing 4-2 win against Switzerland were their two games. The Slovaks have yet to win, but they’ve put up impressive numbers in both of their contests. Their 3-0 defeat vs. Sweden on Monday isn’t indicative of their effort, as Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt (Minnesota Wild) was the difference-maker with a 48-save shutout.
Slovakia should undoubtedly have more than the two goals they’ve scored in this tournament. With that being said, they’ve both come off the stick of Martin Chromiak (Los Angeles Kings), and he’s easily Slovakia’s most dangerous threat offensively. The kids have been alright, too. A slew of 2022-draft-eligibles in Juraj Slafkovsky, Filip Mesar, Servác Petrovsky, and Dalibor Dvorsky have looked really quite good at times. Against a more porous Russian defence, any of those four could get some points on the board.
The Slovaks’ skilled and mobile defence could be a large factor here, too. 2022-eligible Simon Nemec played nearly 29 minutes in their loss to Sweden and didn’t look out of place anywhere. Supplanted by team captain Samuel Knazko (Columbus Blue Jackets) who played over 22 minutes, look for them to both step into the play to generate offence and help prevent chances against. The Russians will be faced with the task of breaking down the Slovak goalie, Simon Latkoczy. He’s stood on his head in two straight tournaments now to help give his team a chance to win games. He has a sparkling .927 save percentage through his first two games, and Russia will need to get a lot of traffic towards the net in order to beat him.
Russia has to be thrilled with youngsters Matvei Michkov’s and Danila Yurov’s play this far. Other than that, it’s been a largely disappointing performance from the team, coached by former NHLer Sergei Zubov. Yaroslav Askarov (Nashville Predators) was pulled against Sweden and was the backup for their game against Switzerland. Whether or not he sits again in favour of Yegor Guskov will be a huge storyline entering this game. Guskov has just a .840 save percentage through his two appearances, and if Slovakia continues to bring their ‘A’-game, that might not be enough to avoid the biggest upset of the tournament up until this point.
The Russian defence has really struggled, but they could be bailed out by a Slovakian team that’s gotten chances but been snakebitten thus far. Even if Slovakia is able to score, they’ll have to deal with Michkov, who has three goals in two games. Russia’s led offensively by some good talent, as Nikita Chibrikov (Winnipeg Jets), Fyodor Svechkov (Nashville Predators), and captain Marat Khusnutdinov (Minnesota Wild) have all chipped in. They’ll need to bring their best to avoid falling short against Slovakia today.
These appear to be two teams trending in opposite directions on the international stage. With Slovakia getting rather unlucky through their first two games, it seems like they’re due for a break. Couple that with a Russian defence that doesn’t look like it will improve much, and there’s a significant upset brewing for this game.
Prediction: Slovakia wins 3-2.
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