5 things to watch in quarterfinals of World Junior Championship

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The semifinals are Monday and the championship and consolation games are Tuesday.

 

Quarterfinals schedule
all games on NHL Network in United States, TSN and RDS in Canada

Russia vs. Germany, Noon ET
Finland vs. Sweden, 3:30 p.m. ET
Canada vs. Czech Republic, 7 p.m. ET
United States vs. Slovakia, 10:30 p.m. ET

 

5 Things to watch

1. Zegras’ evolution

At the 2020 WJC, United States forward Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) led all players with nine assists and had nine shots on goal but didn’t score. This year he’s tied for the tournament lead with six goals on 15 shots and is first with 13 points.

“Obviously I’m shooting the puck more, I think I have a little more confidence in those areas,” Zegras said. “I’m playing with two great players in Arthur Kaliyev (Los Angeles Kings) and Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings), they’re putting me in some really good spots, and I’m just getting pretty lucky and putting them away.”

United States coach Nate Leaman believes the difference this year is that Zegras is 19 years old and more physically mature.

“Last year he was an under-ager (18 years old) in the tournament, I thought he was a little [physically] weak,” Leaman said. “I think he was in a role where every time he got the puck, every time he touched it, he was looking to get an assist.

“This year he’s added weight (6-foot, 169 pounds), and we’ve tried to emphasize to him, hold the puck, hold it, and he can. … This year he can hold the puck, he can look for the right play, he’s more confident in playing with a guy on his hip, he’s more confident in winning 1-on-1 battles with his strength. … The big thing is he’s not looking for the quick play right now. He’s trusting his strength and he’s making the right plays with the puck.”

Video: Trevor Zegras joins Jill Savage after a two-goal game

 

2. Cozens’ bigger role

Forward Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres) has gone from support player for Canada at the 2020 WJC to its leading man through the preliminary round, with 11 points (six goals, five assists), second among all players. And he’s done it playing center and right wing, looking equally comfortable in each spot.

“I think just confidence is the biggest thing,” Cozens said. “Being a second-year guy, I just think my role is bigger this year. I put a lot of work in this offseason to create more, be more of a threat offensively, create things out of nothing and just use my speed and my explosiveness to create scoring opportunities.”

Cozens also is leading off the ice. In the absence of injured forward Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks), Cozens has shared captain duties with defenseman Bowen Byram (Colorado Avalanche).

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and that’s huge,” Byram said. “He’s leading the team in a positive direction, he’s doing the little things right and it’s paying dividends for him and our team. … It’s been awesome and I’m positive he can keep it going.”

 

3. Germany’s top line

It only seemed like Tim Stuetzle (Ottawa Senators) and John-Jason Peterka (Buffalo Sabres) never left the ice for Germany during the preliminary round. But the way the forwards produced, it was difficult to keep them on the bench.

Stuetzle scored 10 points (five goals, five assists) and averaged 25:56 of ice time in four games. Peterka also scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) and averaged 25:31 of ice time in four games. Each scored a point on 10 of Germany’s 14 goals during the preliminary round.

Their strong play helped Germany reach the quarterfinals for the first time since the current tournament format was adopted in 1996.

Stuetzle, the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, had five assists at the 2020 WJC, but this year as Germany’s captain, he’s driven his line and been the best player on the ice on a consistent basis. He scored five points (two goals, three assists) in the 5-4 win against Switzerland on Wednesday that clinched Germany’s spot in the quarterfinals.

“It’s unbelievable what he can do with the puck,” Germany coach Tobias Abstreiter said. “Last year he was not as strong in the legs as he is now, and without the puck his game has improved as well. He’s working both ways very hard. Defensively he’s really improved his game and that’s why I think he made a big step forward.”

Video: Ottawa Senators draftee Tim Stuetzle is featured

 

4. Knight’s confidence

Spencer Knight (Florida Panthers), expected by many to be the best goalie in the tournament, was pulled 12:15 into the second period of the United States’ first game after he allowed four goals on 12 shots and showed uncharacteristic poor play with the puck in a 5-3 loss to Russia.

Those that know Knight, however, never doubted he would bounce back. And with 27 saves in a 4-0 win against Sweden on Thursday, Knight became the first U.S. goalie to have back-to-back shutouts at the WJC. He made 22 saves in a 7-0 win against the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

“He’s always been really mentally tough,” United States defenseman Cameron York said. “Whenever he comes off a tough game he always seems to rebound. If we want to be a really successful team here, we need him to be really good for us every night. Two shutouts in a row should boost his confidence and get him ready for the quarterfinals.”

 

5. Sweden bouncing back

Sweden went 14 years between losses in the preliminary round at the World Juniors, then lost on back-to-back days, 4-3 against Russia in overtime Wednesday to end its 54-game winning streak, and then against the United States on Thursday.

The players, though, said that they remain confident and believe the losses can be used as motivation moving forward.

“Doesn’t matter in group play,” defenseman Philip Broberg (Edmonton Oilers) said Wednesday. “We’ve got to be the best when the stakes are the [highest]. This is going to make us stronger.”

Coach Joel Ronnmark said playing geographic rival Finland also will add motivation. But what Sweden mostly needs is better special teams play.

Sweden is tied for eight in penalty killing at 60.0 percent and went 0-for-6 on the power play in its final two games of the preliminary round.

“I think we’re creating a lot, but we can execute the chances a bit better,” Ronnmark said. “As long as we’re creating chances, and I think we do that, it will come.” 

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