Team Canada did exactly what they were supposed to through their first three round-robin games. Not only are they 3-0 but aside from a slight scare against Slovakia, if you can even call it that, they dominated their opponents in each game. Now, the tournament really gets going as Canada will face their first real test tonight, going head-to-head with Team Finland, the only other undefeated team in the tournament, in a game that will decide who wins Group A.
One thing that I emphasized heading into this tournament was the importance of Canada playing their best hockey heading into this game and after watching them pick apart Switzerland in a 10-0 win on Tuesday, I feel pretty confident in saying that Canada is close to their peak right now.
One player who is certainly playing at their peak is Quentin Byfield, who posted six points in the win over Switzerland. He is a very special player. He has a perfect combination of size, speed, and skill and those have all been on display at this tournament and after a disappointing run at last year’s World Juniors, it’s been great watching Byfield find his game this year. He’s a wildly entertaining player.
Dylan Cozens was tremendous as well, and that’s something I think I’ll be saying every game for the rest of the tournament, so were Canada’s two stud defenseman Bowen Byram and Jamie Drysdale. It really does feel like all of Canada’s star players, and there are plenty of them, are firing on all cylinders right now.
They’ll need to keep that going and Canada will also need another strong performance from Devon Levi, who stopped all 15 shots that the Swiss threw at him on Tuesday, if they want to beat the Finns tonight and win Group A.
There is a lot on the line tonight. A win for Canada will ensure that they do not have to face one of Sweden, the USA, or Russia in the quarterfinal. That would be massive. The Finns will be a motivated bunch as well and they are a very talented team.
Like I said earlier, Finland is the only other undefeated team at the tournament and like Canada, they have waltzed through the early stages of the round-robin. Canada has not trailed for a single second at this year’s event while Finland has only trailed for a total of 33 seconds.
Finland has a goal differential of +11 through three games and while they haven’t scored as much as Canada has, their ability to produce offence should not be overlooked. Florida Panthers first-rounder Anton Lundell has been great, with three goals and three assists so far. Aku Raty and Kasper Simontaival have both also been very good so far at this year’s tournament.
On the blueline, they’re also strong. Ville Heinola is a very good prospect and Leafs prospect Topi Niemala, who has six points already, has been lights out.
Between the pipes, they’ll likely be going with Kari Pirroinen who has been in net for two of their wins already. He has a GAA of 1.50 and a SV%.
WHAT I’M EXPECTING
Finland has a lot of talent but their depth is not nearly as strong as Canada’s. Still, they will put up a good fight tonight. This should be an extremely tight game. Canada will be keeping their lineup the same tonight as it was on Tuesday when they played Switzerland and that makes sense to me. That group played well and all their lines had some really good moments.
Tonight, I’m expecting Canada to win but it will be tight. The biggest areas to keep an eye on for Canada is their powerplay, which is at 50% on the tournament, and their goalie Devon Levi, who will get his first big test of the tournament tonight. If those two areas are good, then Canada will win this game.
Bang bang pic.twitter.com/QwohdKvh1L
— Oilersnation.com (@OilersNation) December 30, 2020
Dylan Holloway had a bit of an up and down game in my opinion. He was placed on the teams’ top line with Dylan Cozens and McMichael and while that trio had some really dominant shifts, Holloway wasn’t standing out too much. He had some good chances and almost batted home a puck on an odd-man rush in the first period. He also drew a penalty, but he was held off the scoresheet in the victory. I don’t think he deserves to be taken off that line at all though. I think that trio works very well.
Phillip Broberg returned to the lineup yesterday in Sweden’s game against Russia and he did not look great. He’s clearly battling through a leg injury and TSN’s Ryan Rishaug speculated that it could be a charlie horse. He got beat wide countless times against Russia and that is not something that we usually see. It will be interesting to see how long it takes him to potentially shake this off but it sounds like he’s going to keep playing through it as the Swedes head into a big game tonight against Team USA with the top spot in the group on the line.
AROUND THE WJC
Yesterday’s results created a very interesting New Years’ Eve at the World Juniors. Russia’s win over Sweden, which ended their 54 game winning streak in the round-robin means that three teams could still finish in the top spot in Group B tonight.
So USA plays SWE tomorrow.
If SWE wins (any way) they win group.
If USA wins in reg, they win group
If USA wins in OT or SO, RUS wins group.
— James Duthie (@tsnjamesduthie) December 31, 2020
Today we’ll also see the Czech Republic face off against Austria in the early game before Canada and Finland will battle with the top spot in Group A on the line.