Predicting the Playoff Rounds at the 2021 World Juniors

 

After six days of non-stop action, the World Juniors group stage is finished.

We now know who will be facing off in the quarterfinals, and who will be sent home early.

In this piece, we will try and predict who will walk away with the gold medal this year, and which favorite may be in trouble of falling in the quarterfinals:

How the playoff works:

The matchup for the quarterfinals are as follows:

Russia versus Germany

Finland versus Sweden

Canada versus the Czech Republic

USA versus Slovakia.

Whichever team wins will advance to the semifinals while the losing team is done until next year. After the quarterfinals, the teams will be reseeded based on results from the group stage.

The standings after the group stage were:

1) Canada, 2) the USA, 3) Finland, 4) Russia, 5) Sweden, 6) Germany, 7) the Czech Republic, 8) Slovakia.

The highest seed will play the lowest seed with the two middle seeds facing off in the semifinals. The winners of the semifinals will play in the gold medal game while the losers will play for bronze.

Now that the tournament is explained, here is the prediction on what may happen in the playoff round:

Russia versus Germany:

Germany will beat Russia in a huge upset to open the playoff round. Yes, you read that right. The powerful Russians who were thought to be tournament favorites will fall to Tim Stützle and the Germans. The Russians have not looked great in the tournament despite beating the US and Sweden. They have not been one of the top teams offensively with 16 goals on 139 shots (11.51%). The Germans, on the other hand, have been scoring at a more efficient rate despite playing most of the tournament shorthanded. Their shooting percentage of 14.89% ranks second behind Canada. The German line of Elias, Peterka, and Stützle has been a force this tournament and ranks third, fourth, and fifth in tournament scoring. The highest-scoring Russian is Amirov who ranks 11th.

Suspensions:

There will be two suspensions that affect this game. First will be Russia’s Mikhail Abramov for a slew foot against Swedish forward Arvid Cosmar. German forward Justin Volek will also miss the game due to a cross-check to the neck of Swiss defenceman Noah Meier. Both suspensions are only one game.

The battle in goal:

Where this game will be won is in goal. Askarov for the Russians has been good throughout the tournament stopping 83 of 91 shots. With the Russian offense unable to produce consistently, Askarov has kept them in games and is one of the main reasons they were able to beat the US and Sweden. The Germans are scheduled to go with Florian Bugl who has struggled in his two games giving up seven goals on 60 shots. Bugl missed the first two games of the tournament due to positive COVID-19 tests so this may be why he has had trouble so far. He did play well against Switzerland despite giving up four goals but will need to be a lot better to hold off the Russians.

The Germans just have too much momentum right now and that is why they will upset the Russians. The Russians’ problem is they aren’t coming together as a team right now. They need to find their offense and fix their special teams in order to advance otherwise, look for Germany to move onto the Semifinals.

Finland versus Sweden:

This will be a battle of two strong teams who both have a shot of making the medal round this year. Finland should be able to beat Sweden and advance to the semifinals. Sweden has had problems with injuries throughout the tournament with captain Philip Broberg clearly playing through a shoulder injury. The major problem Sweden faces is their penalty kill. They have given up four goals on 10 opportunities. Offensively, they rank sixth overall in scoring efficiency with an 8.28% scoring percentage. Sweden also comes into this game having lost their last two games. It will be a challenge for Sweden as Finland will be a tough out.

Special teams will determine the game:

Sweden and Finland are fairly even when it is five-on-five so their powerplay and penalty kill will determine the winner. Finland has been one of the best teams when it comes to special teams, while Sweden finds itself near the bottom of these categories. The penalty kill for Sweden is the biggest issue as many expected them to be a top defensive team in the tournament. To be fair, they have only been shorthanded for 17 minutes and 34 seconds through four games, but only have a 60% penalty kill percentage. It is going to hurt them against Finland whose powerplay is operating at 38.46%

If Sweden wants to win, they will have to stay out of the penalty box and finally get their powerplay going against a great penalty-killing team in Finland that is operating at 86.67%. Look for Finland to take this game against their Nordic rivals and move on to the semifinals.

Canada versus the Czech Republic:

The Canadians have slowly gotten better throughout the tournament, but don’t count the Czechs out of this game. The Czechs are a fast team with a lot of experience playing against these Canadian players from their time in the Canadian Hockey League. Regardless, look for Canada to beat the Czechs and move onto the semi-finals.

Canada just too strong:

The Czechs are near the bottom of scoring, penalty kill, powerplay, goaltending, and scoring efficiency. Do they have a chance to win, of course, but don’t bet money on it. Canada’s defense is solid only giving up four goals all tournament. The one issue Canada has is that all those goals have come while shorthanded. As for the offense, every skater has at least one point while Dylan Cozens is tied for the tournament lead in goals with six. Canada will look to pressure the Czechs and should come away with a spot in the semi-finals.

The USA versus Slovakia:

The US has started to come alive, winning Group B after a 4-0 win over Sweden. Slovakia on the other hand has struggled offensively throughout the tournament with their only win being a 1-0 victory over Switzerland. This game may be a blowout by the US, as their high powered offense is going to be too much for Slovakia.

This could get ugly:

The US has scored 22 straight goals since their loss against Russia. They have yet to give up a powerplay goal and boast the best powerplay which is running at 40%. The US has also scored 20 more goals in the tournament than Slovakia. The only chance Slovakia really has is if Spencer Knight has as poor of a game as he did against Russia. Otherwise, expect the US to make it to the semi-finals.

Semifinals:

Canada versus Germany:

Canada and Germany have picked up their games since they met earlier in the tournament. The Canadians won that game 16-2, but that was with Germany only playing with 14 skaters. I expect this game to be close, but Canada should come out on top.

Germany has a chance:

Germany can beat Canada if the Canadians start getting into penalty trouble. The Germans are deadly on the powerplay having registered eight goals which lead the tournament. The key question is will Tim Stützle have any gas left in the tank or will the fact that he has played over 22 minutes in every game hurt him. Also, Russia will look to play Stützle very physically in their quarterfinals match. Although Germany does have a chance, Canada should come out on top to make it to the gold medal game.

The USA versus Finland:

These are two very evenly matched teams that can defend well while having strong offenses. The USA should be able to sneak past Finland, but this game is a toss-up. They boast the two best powerplays, and two of the three best penalty killers. This game is sure to be a classic to determine who will make the gold medal game, and who will fight for bronze.

Goaltending will decide this game:

The US has given up five goals all tournament while Finland has given up eight. Whichever goaltender can play better will determine who wins this game. Right now, Spencer Knight has to be the favorite after back-to-back shutout. That being said, do not count out Kari Piiroinen. He was the main reason Finland had a chance to win their game against Canada with 36 saves on 39 shots. In the end, the US has just been playing better over their last few games so do not be surprised if Spencer Knight can lead his team to the gold medal.

Bronze Medal Game- Finland versus Germany:

Finland should take home the bronze denying a storybook ending from Germany. That being said, the Germans will fight hard to try and upset Finland in the process. Both teams have killer offenses but Finland is just too powerful. Look for Anton Lundell to have an incredible game and secure the bronze for Finland.

Finland still gets its medal:

In order to ensure they win the bronze, look for Finland to completely neutralize Germany’s top line. The bad news for Germany is that their top line of Elias, Peterka, and Stützle may be so exhausted physically and mentally from this tournament that they may not be able to will Germany to beat Finland. Either way, it will be an exciting low scoring game with Finland capturing their sixth bronze all-time and the first since 2006. This will also be Finland’s first medal since they won gold in Vancouver in 2019.

Gold Medal Game- Canada versus the USA:

Unlike in 2017, the US will not be able to beat Canada on Canadian soil. Canada should skate away with the gold after a hard-fought battle with their southern neighbors. These have been the two best teams throughout the tournament, so it is only fitting that they meet in the finals. Look for Canada to use their size advantage to beat the USA for the gold.

A goaltending battle for the ages:

Most may say that being a Canadian website makes us biased towards Canada, but there is solid reasoning as to why they should win the gold. They have received better goaltending overall with Devon Levi compared to Spencer Knight, and have been better offensively. There is room for debate when it comes to Levi versus Knight but statistically, Levi has been better. Levi boasts a 95.08% save percentage compared to 93.44% for Knight. Levi also has given up one less goal in 68 more minutes of play.

Special teams will determine the champion:

Where Canada is going to have problems is special teams. They have been shorthanded for 27:43 this tournament compared to 10:00 for the US. The Americans have also not given up a shorthanded goal, while all of the goals Canada has conceded have been while shorthanded. Whoever wins the special teams battle will win the game. Look for Canada to be more disciplined in this game, otherwise, the US’s efficient powerplay will do some damage.

Number 19 For Canada:

In the end, Canada should skate away with gold medal #19 at this tournament and their first gold at home since 2015 in Toronto. This will also mean back-to-back gold for the Canadians. Although early on it looked like Canada may struggle this tournament, they have turned their game around and should be rewarded with the gold. As for the US, winning silver is an incredible achievement. They have worked extremely hard throughout this tournament and have shown that their development program is one of the best in the world. These players have bright futures in the NHL so look out for names like Trevor Zegras, Cam York and Spencer Knight to be making a name for themselves sooner rather than later.

 

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