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Zary and Pelletier catch fire for Canada, Kuznetsov logs another steady performance for Russia at the World Juniors

After a slow day at the World Juniors with all four Flames prospects having the day off, Tuesday was the opposite with all four in action. Dustin Wolf and USA thoroughly defeated the Czechs by a score of 7-0, though Wolf spent the entire game on the bench. Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary and Canada took care of business against Switzerland winning 10-0 to set up a group deciding game against Finland on New Year’s Eve Thursday. Meanwhile, Yan Kuznetsov and Russia bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Czechs by defeating Austria 7-1.

Dustin Wolf

After stepping in for Spencer Knight against Russia and stopping every shot he faced Wolf put up a shutout the following game against Austria. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to convince the US coaching staff to give him the starters role. Knight was back in net on Tuesday against the Czechs and put up a 22 save shutout in the win.  The game was tight through the first 25 minutes and it looked like the Czechs could pull off another upset. However, the Americans broke through with a goal by Bobby Brink at 5:33 of the second period. From here on out the Americans took over and controlled the rest of the game en route to a big win.

Despite Wolf not giving up a single goal in 86:35 minutes of action so far, it appears it will require another slip up by Knight for him to get some playing time. With the Americans having a pivotal game against Sweden on Thursday it will most likely be Knight back in net after his solid game yesterday. Every game is crucial from here on out, so it’s safe to assume the team will stick with one goalie and Wolf won’t get another shot unless Knight is pulled or injured.

Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier

Despite having a solid game against Slovakia on Sunday, Connor Zary was bumped down to the 13th forward spot for this game with Dylan Holloway returning from injury. As such he saw limited minutes in the first half of the game. Pelletier remained on a line with Quinton Byfield while Jack Quinn took Zary’s spot on the left side of their line.

However, halfway through the second period Zary was reunited with Byfield and Pelletier and the trio immediately picked up where they left off on Sunday. During their first shift back together, Zary got a great chance in the slot that he put just wide. Luckily Pelletier showed great instincts and was right there to put in the rebound off the boards for his second goal of the tournament. The assist was Zary’s first point of the tournament.

Their very next shift the line once again dominated during about four straight minutes of pressure from Canada. They almost had another goal as Zary made a great pass from behind the net to Pelletier who couldn’t get it past the Swiss goalie Noah Patenaude. Zary also had a great chance of his own for his first goal of the tournament later in the period that Patenaude made an incredible save on.

Pelletier continued his strong two play early in the third with a nice neutral zone takeaway and quick pass to Jack Quinn who gained the zone and fed it to Byfield for Canada’s eighth goal of the game and Pelletier’s first assist. Soon after he added his second goal of the game with just over four minutes left in the third off a great shot in the slot after Canada forced a turnover.

During the last shift of the game the trio once again created a chance as Pelletier hounded the Swiss defence on the forecheck which led to a defensive zone turnover and good chance for Zary off a Pelletier pass.

As he has been for most of the tournament, Pelletier was unrelenting in his pressure both on the penalty kill and at even strength. He consistently gave the Swiss players limited time with the puck when he was on the ice and made some nice plays on the PK clearing the puck. He also had some nice takeaways at both ends of the ice throughout the game that led to chances and a goal for Canada. He ended the game with two goals, one assist, two shots and 13:02 of ice time.

Once bumped up the lineup Zary was very noticeable as he was consistently making smart quick plays in the offensive zone that led to chances. Him and Pelletier worked great together buzzing around the ice and keeping the Swiss defence on their toes. What stood out most was his ability to make plays in tight to ensure Canada kept possession of the puck. He only ended up with 7:23 of ice time but made full use of it with one assist, three shots and a penalty drawn.

Overall Zary and Pelletier were very impressive once again alongside Byfield. The line was great just about every shift they were together after being reunited. Going forward I’d expect them to stick together as the games get more important starting Thursday against Finland. Here’s Pelletier assessing his lines play.

Yan Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov and Russia bounced back against Austria as he put up another solid albeit quiet performance. As his been the norm with Kuznetsov so far this tournament: he doesn’t stand out most shifts, but he consistently makes good, safe plays.

He was routinely making good defensive reads and using his reach and skating ability to break up plays in the neutral zone and defensive zone both at even strength and on the penalty kill. He also did a great job of getting the puck up ice and starting the Russian breakout. Per HBF Analytics, Kuznetsov’s nine zone exits tied him for most in the game. There were also multiple occasions where Kuznetsov held the line in the offensive zone so that Russia could continue their sustained pressure.

Unfortunately, he was on the ice for Austria’s lone goal in the game after a turnover by Russia. As the lone man back on a semi two-on-one he decided to take the puck carrier and wasn’t able to stop the pass. He probably would’ve been better off staying in the middle as the Austrian forward was too far wide to get a good shot. He wasn’t completely at fault though as his defensive partner was caught up ice and Marco Kasper made a great saucer pass to set up the goal.

Kuznetsov ended the game with 16:29 in ice time and no shots. He’ll be back in action tomorrow as Russia takes on Sweden in their final group stage game.

Photo Credit: Andrea Cardin HHOF-IIHF Images

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