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Blais sees early penalties for U.S. as good sign

Monday, 12.28.2009 / 5:21 PM / 2010 World Junior Championship

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

"When you play physical you're going to get a penalty or two. When you play with energy you're going to get a call or two. You start getting the guys being afraid to finish checks and hit, you've lost them. We want 70-80 hits a game and with that there's going to be penalties." -- U.S. coach Dean Blais

The first two games for the United States at the 2010 World Junior Championship have started in similar fashion -- a slow start and a couple penalties in the first period, followed by vastly improved play over the final 40 minutes.

Coach Dean Blais, however, said he wouldn't change very much from his team's start, especially not the early penalties.

"Wasn't a lack of discipline," Blais told NHL.com from Saskatoon, Sask. "Says on the score sheet that we're leading in penalties, but they've been as disciplined as we want to see them."

Actually, the U.S. is second in penalties, with 41 minutes (three fewer than Austria), and U.S. forward Tyler Johnson leads the tournament with 25 penalty minutes -- although they really aren't all his. Johnson was mistakenly given a game-misconduct in Saturday's opener that should have been assessed to Jason Zucker. But Blais said Johnson's quiet acceptance of the mistake is a sign of his team's restraint.

Blais said the aggressive forecheck he's installed has been going just the way he wants it. And while that aggression has led to penalties, he says it's a more than fair trade-off.

"When you play physical you're going to get a penalty or two," he said. "When you play with energy you're going to get a call or two. You start getting the guys being afraid to finish checks and hit, you've lost them. We want 70-80 hits a game and with that there's going to be penalties."

The U.S. has killed off six of the nine penalties called against them, and a lot of that credit can go to strong goaltending by Mike Lee and Jack Campbell.

After a slow start against Slovakia, Lee stopped 10 of the 11 shots he faced over the final 40 minutes in the 7-3 win. Campbell stopped all 22 shots in the 3-0 defeat of Switzerland on Sunday.

Lee will start Tuesday against Latvia (4 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), but Blais said he's undecided on which goalie will start Thursday against Canada.

"We're fortunate enough to have two," said Blais. "Is (Lee) our No. 1 or is Jack our No. 1? We'll have to go on feel and how they play in practice. One's not playing better than the other. They're playing good most of the time, whether its game or practice."

Blais put the players through a high-intensity practice Monday in preparation for Tuesday's game. The coach told his players to ignore Latvia's two losses, which have come by a combined score of 24-3.

"I don't want guys to think that just because they lost 16-0 to Canada and 8-3 to Slovakia they're pushovers," he said.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com
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