The United States posted its third straight shutout win on New Year’s Eve, clinching the top spot in Group B heading into the quarterfinals. The Americans rode a hot start and never let the Swedes get going, outshooting the opposition 37-27. They had more contributions from their defensemen in this one, as two of their four goals were scored by blueliners.
Sweden was unable to get on the scoresheet after a very exciting contest with Russia the night prior, losing in overtime and breaking its consecutive win streak in preliminaries at 54 games. After dropping two straight, Sweden enters the quarterfinals in the third spot in Group B and will take on Finland on Saturday. The United States enters the quarterfinals as the second seed, taking on Slovakia.
The United States jumped out to a 2-0 lead early and never looked back after just four minutes and five shots on goal. Throwing pucks on net paid off for the Americans, as the two goals weren’t necessarily the best opportunities, but ended up squeaking past the goalie. Defenseman Drew Helleson opened the scoring with a shot from behind the goal line that deflected in, and Trevor Zegras followed suit with another bad-angle shot that managed to find its way in.
Although the shot metrics were close, the United States had a stranglehold on this game from the beginning and looked very comfortable throughout. As the team begins to play more meaningful games, the message to put pucks on net has to remain the same after the results of this game. Getting off to strong starts against some of the top teams in the tournament could be the difference between getting a medal and taking a quick exit for the Americans.
Top Swedes Shut Down
A strength of Team Sweden is its top-six forward group, and the United States did a great job of shutting that group down in this contest. With two top-10 picks in this year’s draft on its top line alone, Sweden boasts plenty of firepower, but the chances weren’t flowing against a strong United States defense.
Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond, two of the top prospects in the tournament, have been mostly held in check so far, especially in this one. Both players have managed just one goal and three points apiece despite many more chances.
Forwards Noel Gunler and Simon Holmstrom are tied with defenseman Victor Soderstrom for the team lead with five points through the team’s four preliminary games. Expectations were high for the Swedish goal scorers, particularly Holtz and Raymond, but there is still plenty of hockey to be played for them to turn it around.
After a disappointing performance from its goal scorers, the matchup against Finland will be one to watch in the quarterfinals, as both teams have the potential to surprise despite their low seeding.
Turcotte Lights the Lamp
Forward Alex Turcotte finally got himself a goal, capitalizing on the strong play of his line throughout the preliminary round. He now has five points through the four-game preliminary round after managing only two assists at last year’s tournament. It has been a breakout tournament for the entire United States’ top-six, most notably Anaheim Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras, who leads the tournament in assists and points, and is tied for the lead in goals.
Centering Zegras’ line has provided Turcotte with plenty of opportunities, and he finally cashed in. Turcotte had a strong freshman season at the University of Wisconsin, scoring nine goals and recording 26 points in 29 games in his first college season. The Los Angeles Kings prospect will be looking to stay hot at this tournament and put together another strong collegiate season to join a rebuilding roster sooner than later.
After outscoring its opponents 22-0 in its last three contests, the sky is the limit for this team. Both goaltenders have been very strong for the Americans, particularly Spencer Knight after an unfortunate start to the tournament against Russia. Knight is the first United States goalie to post back-to-back shutouts at the World Juniors and appears to have regained a strong hold on the starting job.
With offensive contributions coming from the entire lineup and the continued strong play of its top players, offense doesn’t appear to be a concern, either. Further tests are upcoming if they can fend off Slovakia, so this could still just be the beginning of a strong run for this team.