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Strong start not enough for Canadian world junior hockey team

NHL.com @NHL

PARDUBICE, Czech Republic - Canada wasn't satisfied opening the world junior tournament with back-to-back shutouts for the first time in the tournament's history.

So it was back on the ice Friday at Pardubice Arena to work on scoring more goals. "The coaching staff demands perfection and so does the country," defenceman Thomas Hickey said following practice. "We want to get gold and if there are parts missing in your game, then obviously you need to get better. We feel the same way as a team."

Canada can finish first in Pool A and earn the bye to the Jan. 4 semifinals with a win over Sweden on Saturday (2 p.m. ET) in a clash of 2-0 teams.

Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston Maineiacs will get a second start in net for Canada.

Canada concludes the preliminary round Monday against Denmark (0-2).

The Swedes flattened the Danes 10-1 Friday, while the U.S. (2-0) doubled winless Switzerland 4-2 in Pool B in Liberec.

The second-and third-place teams in each pool cross over to meet in the quarter-finals Jan. 2.

The bonus of the bye is it gives two teams in the tournament an extra day of rest. If Canada can secure top spot in Pool A, they get three straight days without a game before next week's semifinals.

"We want to get that rest heading into the medal round," Hickey said. "We need the three points for sure."

Canada's team-wide verdict after a 3-0 win over the host Czechs and a 2-0 victory over Slovakia to open the tournament was that the offence lagged far behind the defence.

"For the most part, we've stayed on the defensive side of the puck and haven't got caught for too many odd-man rushes, but . . . we've got to work as hard offensively as we are defensively right now," head coach Craig Hartsburg said. "We need to create more by our hard work, not just our skills."

Canada has scored just one even-strength goal and even the power play could use some work as the defending champions have been guilty of hanging onto the puck too long.

"We're not moving around enough yet and we're not thinking where the puck should go before we get it," captain Karl Alzner said. "It's something we practised a little bit right now and hopefully it will change this next game."

The defence from the goaltenders out has been outstanding and the penalty kill airtight.

"We're shutting down all the other team's opportunities and keeping the puck away from the other team's best players," Alzner said.

The Canadians are chasing a fourth straight gold medal in this tournament, but have already broken a few records in their first pair of games.

At 20 straight victories starting Dec. 25, 2004, it's the longest winning streak in the history of the tournament. Bernier's 44 saves in Game 1 against the Czechs was a Canadian record.

But if the defending champs want to set a record for most minutes played without giving up a goal, Canada has to keep the puck out of its own net until after 15:09 of the second period of Monday's game against Denmark.

Russia holds the record at 215 minutes nine seconds, set in 1999 in Winnipeg. Alexei Volkov, who played for the Halifax Mooseheads at the time, played all those minutes.

Here's a closer look at Canada's highs and lows so far this tournament:

The good:

A 2-0 record and no goals allowed in games less than 24 hours apart speaks for itself. Canada may have been low on gas in Game 2, but didn't neglect the small things that win hockey games.

Goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and Steve Mason have made pivotal saves, but more importantly there's been no panic in their game under pressure, which in turn fuels confidence in their teammates. Mason will stray far from his net to play the puck and seems comfortable doing it.

"Our team defence has been tremendous and that's from more than just the defence and the goaltenders because the forwards have done a great job," Hickey said. "The goaltenders have been amazing because when we do give up a chance, they're there to stop it."

Canada's calling card at the world junior championship is a dominant penalty kill and this edition does it well. No goals allowed the 15 times Canada has been a man down, which tends to suck the will out of the opposition.

Put the power play in both the good and bad categories and see below. Four goals with a man up over two games has been the difference offensively.

John Tavares and Steve Stamkos, both 17, showed what they can do with a little extra room in Game 1 and Kyle Turris was a warrior in front of the net in Game 2 for Canada's two goals.

The bad:

Not a lot of scoring chances five-on-five and Canada has yet to score a goal in the first period. Canada may be trying to play it safe on the big ice, but they've looked hesitant at times.

Head coach Craig Hartsburg has tried to get Brandon Sutter and Stefan Legein going by inserting Zach Boychuk on their wing. Kyle Turris, Claude Giroux and Brad Marchand have yet to bury the puck at even-strength.

"We're asking everybody to pitch in," Hartsburg said. "There's some guys who haven't scored we think will eventually, but we need to pick up that tenacity."

It's hard to criticize a power play that's scored four times, but the Canadians could have had more than two against Slovakia with 12 chances, including a five-on-three in the first period that didn't yield a goal.

"We end up having more time with the puck so we don't move it as quick as we would maybe back home where there's a small rink and we know we have to move it," Hartsbug explained. "At times on the power play we've gotten ourselves thinking 'we've got more space here, I can hold onto it."'

Canada's penalty kill has been excellent, but the second-most penalized team in the tournament behind the Slovaks risk wearing themselves out.

"We don't like that stat," Alzner said. "It does really kill you and wear you out. Yesterday it seemed like Slovakia was getting all the penalties, but we had seven so we're right up there too.

"We've got to find a way to skate and use our speed instead of our sticks and when we hit, we've got to hit smart because they call every little hit."

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