The U.S. won its group for the first time since the 2011 World Junior Championship after running through Pool B with a perfect 4-0-0-0 record. As a result, they’ll meet Switzerland who managed to narrowly make the playoff round thanks to a thrilling comeback overtime win over upstart Denmark.
Team USA and Switzerland are set to square off Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NHL Network. Should the U.S. win, they’ll face Russia in the semifinal for the second straight year on Wednesday.
No U.S. team has ever lost to Switzerland at the World Juniors, owning 20 wins in 22 all-time meetings, with a pair of ties in there. While the historical angle is nice, the U.S. will be much happier about how the team has seemingly improved with each passing game. Their style suggests that they should be able to contain Switzerland, but as has been proven in previous years, there are no guarantees in the World Juniors.
Here are a few things to know about Monday’s quarterfinal…
First, here’s a look at Team USA’s lineup for today via USA Hockey:
Captain Luke Kunin is back in the lineup after getting ejected early in the second period against Canada for interference. With him back, the U.S. gets their top shutdown center and one of their top penalty killers.
Meanwhile, as noted below, Tyler Parsons is back in net as the U.S. continues with rotating goalies.
There are no other changes from the starting lineup that beat Canada on New Year’s Eve.
Here’s what you need to know for today’s contest.
1. These are the games where depth makes a difference
Team USA’s depth and how they use it has been the story of the tournament so far for USA and it should only continue in the medal round. Having won the group, they’re getting a Swiss team that avoided the relegation round by just one point.
This is a game where you’d expect the U.S. to be able to roll its lines throughout and more evenly distribute ice time among the defensemen. Meanwhile, the Swiss have a number of talented forwards at the top of their lineup that have already been playing a lot in this tournament.
If the U.S. can get the lead early, like they’ve been able to do in most of their games so far, they’ll have a better chance of wearing Switzerland down as the game rolls on. Team USA has also been remarkable at closing games out, which comes back to their ability to distribute the ice time pretty evenly. They’re usually going to be the fresher team at the end of the game.
Another big factor is the Americans’ ability to get contributions from throughout its lineup. All 20 skaters on the team have at least one point. According to USA Hockey, this is only the fourth time in the history of the tournament that the U.S. squad has had every skater get a point. It speaks to their ability to spread out the responsibilities and give everyone a chance to contribute. It also speaks to the ability of the players they selected. When everyone is pitching in, you’ve got a much greater shot at success.
It’s hard to imagine the U.S. losing if they continue to play as they have throughout the tournament. Considering how much they’ve improved with each passing game, which is always the goal at the World Juniors, all they have to do is continue that trend and they’ll be headed to the semis.
2. Switzerland has just enough talent to keep USA honest
While the Americans can feel good about their chances, there’s no such thing as a walk in the quarterfinal. We’ve seen the gap between the top and bottom of this tournament narrow a great deal over the last few years and the Swiss are going to feel like they have a chance in this one.
A lot of that has to do with the skill at the top of their lineup. They’ve been in pretty much every game they’ve played until the end. With a little more scoring depth, they could have been a bit more competitive, but they have enough to pounce on mistakes.
Nico Hischier has a chance to be a top-five pick in this year’s NHL Draft and is one of the team’s top scorers so far at the World Juniors. Calvin Thurkauf and Damien Riat have also been standouts in the tournament.
On the back end, Jonas Siegenthaler has been an absolute workhorse and is tied for the team lead with five points.
Meanwhile, Switzerland has leaned almost entirely on Joren van Pottelberghe as their goaltender. He has started all four games and has posted a .917 save percentage.
Their lack of depth could be their undoing, but they have enough skill to pounce on mistakes and make their opponent pay. That can be enough sometimes.
3. Tyler Parsons will start in net
The U.S. has had success with their goaltending rotation and aren’t going to waver from it for now. After starting against Latvia and Russia, Tyler Parsons is back between the pipes following Joe Woll’s strong performance against Canada. Woll was also in net against Slovakia.
Parsons will get his first taste of an elimination situation in international play. Having spent last spring competing for and winning a Memorial Cup with the London Knights, he’s had plenty of experience in high-stakes games.
The Flames prospect has a .923 save percentage while allowing just three goals over his last two starts.
4. Stray notes
- Team USA met Switzerland in their first pre-tournament game, earning a 4-3 win. Jack Roslovic had a goal and an assist, while Jeremy Bracco, Joey Anderson and Tage Thompson also had goals. Parsons made 21 saves on 24 shots.
- The U.S. has the tournament’s third best power play, with five goals on 19 advantages, while Switzerland ranks fifth with four goals on 17 power plays. USA’s penalty kill ranks fourth in the tournament, while Switzerland ranks fifth.
Check back later for a full U.S. lineup and some additional thoughts.