And then there were four.
The 2021 World Junior Championship is down to the final four, and it’s a very familiar as one of Canada, Russia, the United States or Finland will be crowned as this year’s gold medal winner.
With a couple of dandy semifinal matchups on tap for Monday night, let’s take a look at the first of the two as its Russia vs. Canada in a heated rivalry from the Edmonton bubble!
Russia vs. Canada Betting Odds
- Russia (+250)
- Canada (-310)
- Russia +1.5 (-120)
- Canada -1.5 (+100)
- Over 5.5 (+115)
- Under 5.5 (-140)
Russia vs. Canada World Junior Pick Breakdown
It wasn’t easy, but the Russians fought off a pesky Germany squad and squeezed their way into this semifinal matchup with Canada.
Russia gained a 2-0 advantage on Germany heading into the third, but a Florian Elias goal near the midway mark had some Russian fans tugging at their collars a little bit. However, aside from a crossbar off the stick of Elias, Germany didn’t come particularly close to tying the game and Russia held on to book their ticket to the semis.
Russia held a notable shot advantage over the Germans, but goaltender Yaroslav Askarov was sharp in goal, getting beat high on the blocker side by Elias for his lone goal against in the quarterfinal. Russia played in the more difficult Group B throughout the round robin, facing tough offenses in the United States and Sweden, but Askarov improved his numbers to a 2.22 GAA and .918 Sv% through four starts in this tournament, sitting out the team’s final round-robin contest against Austria.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 2, 2020
That’s not a great number for a team that sported the second-best odds to win the tournament at the outset. The top line of Vasily Podkolzin, Rodion Amirov and Marat Khusnutdinov has, as expected, been doing the heavy lifting, but their bottom-nine forwards generally lacks firepower, something we noted in our World Junior Betting Preview. If the top line can’t get going in this one, the Russians are in trouble, especially with Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Yegor Chinakhov questionable after missing the quarterfinal following an awkward fall into the boards in a their win over Austria.
There’s five NHL-drafted prospects on the Russian blueline, and another one likely on its way in Guelph Storm defenseman Daniil Chayka. Boston Bruins prospect and current University of Connecticut Husky Yan Kuznetsov has been the most impressive defenseman on that blueline in this tournament. They largely kept the Germans to the outside in the quarters, and also haven’t surrendered more than three goals in a game so far at the 2021 World Juniors.
Add in Askarov and the Russians have made up for their lack of scoring depth up front with quality defending and goaltending en route to this semifinal tilt.
They played in the inferior Group A during the round robin, and Canada largely sailed their way to this semifinal matchup with the rival Russians.
The tournament started with a bang in a 16-2 drubbing of the undermanned Germans, but were dragged back down to earth in a close 3-1 win over Slovakia one night later. However, they would outscore Switzerland and Finland by a combined 14-1 count to cap their round robin with a clean 4-0-0-0 record while outscoring their opponents 33-4.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 31, 2020
Canada didn’t have its ‘A’ or even ‘B’ game in their quarterfinal matchup with the Czechs, but managed a 3-0 win nonetheless. Winning when you aren’t close to our best is a positive sign, but it’s certainly fair to say that they will need to be far better if they are to avoid the upset in this one.
Heading into the tournament, we knew the Canadians boasted a monster group of forwards, every one of whom is a first-round NHL draft pick. We also knew they had a stout blueline loaded with first-rounders, two of whom are NHL-ready in Bowen Byram and Thomas Harley.
The biggest question mark was between the pipes. Devon Levi, Dylan Garand and Taylor Gauthier were all candidates to take the starter’s job and run with it, and it’s been Levi that has done just that.
All the sudden, there aren’t any question marks on this team. There usually aren’t any on the Canadian roster at this event, but this year the goaltending situation was far murkier than we’ve seen in the past, but Levi’s stellar play, consistency and demeanor in the Canadian crease has erased the question marks that once existed.
There’s little doubt that this Russian team is the Canadians’ toughest test yet. They haven’t faced a goaltender nearly as highly-touted as Askarov, or a trio as good as Podkolzin, Amirov and Khusnutdinov up front. However, as the deepest team in the tournament, it’s no surprise to see the Canadians are heavy favorites in this one once again.
Russia vs. Canada World Junior Pick
I’ve spent the entirety of this piece speaking to the tournaments both teams have had so far. While thats about all we can do given the small sample this tournament allows us, the truth is everything that’s happened up until now means nothing heading into this matchup.
The medal round is a whole new ballgame. To me, it wasn’t surprising to see the quarterfinal games completed without a blowout as Canada’s 3-0 win and the United States’ 5-2 victory over Slovakia representing the widest deficits of the quarters. The other two matchups finished as one-goal affairs.
In other words, nothing is given and everything is earned at this point.
Upsets are always possible at this stage, but I’m on the favorites in this one.
While both teams have displayed an ability to defend and keep pucks out of their own net, the Canadian depth up front crushes that of their opponent for this one. Only three of the Russian forwards on their roster are not drafted by NHL clubs, however they just haven’t created a consistent attack behind their top line. As noted above, the top line better generate offense in this one or Russia is in big trouble.
While it’s the toughest test yet for the previously unknown Levi, if he is as solid and calm in the net in this one as he’s been throughout the tournament, the Canadians are in good hands. The competition wasn’t been stiff in Group A, however Levi was just so solid in the net, refusing to allow rebounds or second-chance opportunities. His calmness and low-movement game in the crease is a sign that he’s on top of his game.
As good as Russia’s blueline has been, Canada’s has been better. As a team, they weren’t nearly at their best against the Czechs, but largely lost in the post-game headlines was the stifling defense Canada played. Keep in mind Canada posted a shutout in that one despite scoring just three of their own, largely due to the defense’s work in keeping the Czechs from entering the zone at full speed, clogging up the neutral zone and making life easier on Levi as a result. A similar effort today notches Canada the win.
All that said, I’m not interested in laying that moneyline juice, so give me Canada -1.5 on the puckline as they look to punch their ticket to the gold medal game on home ice.