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World Junior Championship, Day 5

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Poised for another run?
Poised for another run?

Those enigmatic Russians were the big news makers on Day 4. Russia destroyed Latvia, 14-0, to set up a pool showdown with Sweden tomorrow. In their first two games, the Russians looked to be disorganized, undisciplined and lost on defense. They shook the cobwebs loose against Latvia with a superb performance, marked only by some terrible penalties. Most of the wreckage came at the hands of Washington Capitals prospect Yevgeni Kuznetsov who totaled nine points, including a hat trick, and was generally unstoppable.

Russia lost Mikhail Grigorenko, the #2 prospect in the 2012 draft, to an injury mid-way through the first period. Grigorenko's injury is the latest incident in a run of terrible luck for the 2012 eligible players, as five of the top fifteen prospects have now suffered injuries.

Group B's first vs. last seed matchup was a bit less lopsided, which is odd to type considering Canada beat Denmark by eight goals. Denmark, the team with the worst goal differential entering play last night, left goaltender Sebastian Feuk out to dry for most of the first period and Canada took advantage, piling on 15 shots in the first period and opening up a 4-0 lead. When it was over, Canada put 51 pucks on net en route to their 10-2 win. Denmark managed just three shots on goal in the first frame and just 26 for the game, though most of those shots came in garbage time.

*all times Mountain

USA Czech
Group B
United States (1-1-0) vs. Czech Republic (1-1-0)
1:30 p.m. | Television - TSN, RDS, NHL Network
Oilers Prospects: None
Key Matchup: Dean Blais (Coach-USA) vs. himself

Dean Blais began the game against Finland by breaking up the lines that were most successful against Denmark and benching Jack Campbell in favor of backup goaltender John Gibson. There was little reason for him to do this other than typical coach tinkering or blending. If he wants to get out to an early lead, he should probably go back to the lineup he used against the Danes.

The Czechs, on the other hand, have a ton of work to do to stay competitive against the top tier in this tournament. Thus far, the only Czech playing at a very high level is goaltender Petr Mrazek. Mrazek shut out the Danes, and though he was under siege against Canada, acquitted himself well. If the Czechs want to have a shot, Mrazek is going to have to do more than acquit himself nicely, he's going to have to turn in a performance like Sami Aittokallio did against the Americans.

Tre Kronor Slovakia
Group A
Sweden (2-0-0) vs. Slovakia (1-1-0)
3:30 p.m. | Television - TSN2
Oilers Prospects: Martin Gernat (D-SVK), Martin Marincin (D-SVK)
Key Matchup: Johan Larsson (C-SWE) vs. Martin Marincin (D-SVK)

Sweden almost gave one up to the Swiss, but Slovakia isn't plucky enough to hang in this one. Sweden has one of the deepest offensive teams in the tournament, but the Swiss stifled them systemically. If the Slovaks want to so the same, it's up to their defense. Martin Marincin has been the best Slovak thus far, but to win this one, his blueline mates have to have their best games. If Slovakia hangs in this one, you'll hear the names Gernat, Ceresnak, Janosik, and Cajkovsky quite often.

The Swedes need to play their style and get out early in this one, then drop the hammer. The Swiss hung around and kept counter-attacking to claw their way back into it and the Swedes let them. Roger Ronnberg should ask for and coach for a 8-0 win. Pour it on early and don't let up.

Suomi Denm0001_gif_medium
Group B
Finland (1-1-0) vs. Denmark (0-3-0)
6:00 p.m. | Television - TSN2
Oilers Prospects: None
Key Matchup: None

The Finns got a day off and get the easiest matchup of the tournament. Hopefully the downtime allows defenseman Olli Maatta to recover from his concussion in time for the medal round, though the most recent protocols dictate six symptom-free days before returning to action. Maatta suffered the concussion on the 26th, so if the Finns were to follow protocol, he shouldn't be able to play until January 3rd.

The Danes are pretty clearly outclassed in this tournament. The IIHF would have been better off with the Germans in this one. Germany's goal differential was just -8 through the round robin last year. The Danes are already -23 and have a game to go. The decision to relegate only one team makes sense.

Suisse Nj_medium
Group A
Switzerland (0-1-1) vs. Latvia (0-3-0)
8:00 p.m. | Television - Unavailable
Oilers Prospects: Kristians Pelss (F-LAT)
Key Matchup: None

The Swiss need some help from the Slovaks in order to move up the pool standings. If not, they'll likely finish third and face the Canadians or the Finns in the first round.

Latvia seemed to have things together until the game against Russia. A loss by two or less would be a moral victory.