The final day of the preliminary rounds of the World Junior Championship is here. In group B, there is a heavyweight bout between Finland and the USA. If Finland wins, they finish atop the group. If USA wins, and Slovakia loses, they finish first in the group. Lots to fight for in this one.
2023 World Junior Championship Predictions
Finland vs USA
Finland, as mentioned earlier, is currently first in group B. They are coming off of a 3-0 shut-out win over Latvia, giving them some momentum. Meanwhile, USA is coming off of a big win over Switzerland, who previously was on top of the division. As a matter of fact, that’s the only team that has beaten Finland thus far. Who will take this game?
Against Latvia, an easy match for the strong Finnish roster, Finland once again saw themselves get out-shot. It’s a concerning trend that continued into that game that really should not have been as close as it was. Up front, it was Jani Nyman (Seattle Kraken) leading the way with one goal and one assist against the Latvians. On the backend, Otto Salin (Los Angeles Kings) led with two assists. Then, in net, Jani Lampinen had the 31-save shutout.
Overall, Sami Paivarinta leads the team in points with four on the tournament, with Salin, Nyman, and Kalle Ervasti right behind with three points of their own. But, as mentioned, they continue to get out-shot in every game. It starts with some of their top players up front being very quiet. They need their big names to step up, especially against the Americans today. If not for Lampinen, who has a .964 save percentage and 1.00 goals against average thus far, the Finns would not be at the top of the group.
Player To Watch
Probably one of the most disappointing performances on the roster belongs to Brad Lambert (Winnipeg Jets). With just one goal thus far, despite being in his third U20 World Junior Championship, fans rooting for Lambert have been left with much to be desired. In a big game with some big implications, Finland needs him to step up. He is not the only one, but he is arguably the most notable one.
The Americans had a rough start against an inferior Latvian squad, before pulling it back and winning 5-2 in their first game. Then they had a rough outing against Slovakia, falling 6-3. But against Switzerland, who had yet to lose, they dominated, winning 5-1. They were led by Jimmy Snuggerud (St. Louis Blues) who had two goals, and Logan Cooley (Arizona Coyotes) who had a goal and an assist in their game against Switzerland.
Overall, they’re led up front by Cooley and Cutter Gauthier (Philadelphia Flyers) who each have four points. As for defenders, Sean Behrens (Colorado Avalanche) leads with three points. With plenty of production, what’s caused their struggles early? Defensive zone work and goaltending. Trey Augustine ranks seventh among all goaltenders in save percentage, at .917. Meanwhile, back-up goalie Kaidan Mbereko has an .800 save percentage. The goalies need to be better, as does the defensive zone coverage, if the Americans want to medal.
Player To Watch
The player to watch has to be the goalie, Augustine. The offence comes from the forwards and defenders, with the defenders truly being fun to watch. But for them to go far, it starts from the net. Augustine made 18 saves on 19 shots against Switzerland, in a dominant American win. He needs to take some momentum from that game and carry it into this one, as Finland will put up a better fight, most likely.
World Junior Championship Matchup Prediction
Finland has gotten by thanks to goaltending. The offence needs to be better, as has been explained. Continually being out-shot will not work against a high-powered offence. In comes the USA, a high-powered offence. Can Finland’s goalie, Lampinen, continue his strong performances? Or will Cooley and friends put on an onslaught? Additionally, Finland has been advantageous when they get offensive chances. Will they continue that trend against the Americans, who are prone to defensive zone mistakes and shaky goaltending?
Prediction: USA wins 3-2 (in OT)