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Canucks look for answers to power-play struggles

Monday, 03.18.2013 / 7:16 PM / NHL Insider

By Kevin Woodley - NHL.com Correspondent

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Canucks look for answers to power-play struggles
Power-play success has been a key to the Vancouver Canucks' success in the past two seasons. Struggles with the extra man are fueling this season's struggles.

VANCOUVERDaniel Sedin believes the Vancouver Canucks need to stop thinking so much about their struggling power play.

That's probably a good idea, considering their drought with the man advantage has reached a mind-boggling 11 games, easily the longest funk in the 15 seasons of team data available on NHL.com. It's been more than a decade since the Canucks' next longest slump, which lasted eight-games back in 2001-02.

Given the personnel involved, it's becoming hard to wrap the mind around a nearly month long donut on the power play. Sedin thinks maybe they should stop trying.

"We've done a lot of things in practice to get things going, but we're just not playing with confidence," Sedin said. "When you are struggling, you are probably putting too much thought into it. We're at our best when we go out there and don't think, move the puck, get shots and get to those rebounds."

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It's a lot easier to measure the impact of going 0-for-34 since the last power-play goal back on Feb. 21. The Canucks are just 4-5-2 since then, leaving them in need of a win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night to regain top spot in a Northwest Division they have won for the last five of the last six seasons.

That's a stark contrast to the last two seasons, when Vancouver was at or near the top of the League on the power play while winning the President's Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team both times -- finishing first at 24.3 percent before advancing to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2001, and fourth at 19.8 percent last season. They've dropped to 27th at 13.6 percent now, a precipitous slide that coincides with their fall down the standings and into a battle to make the playoffs in the tight Western Conference.

For a team that has relied on its power play as a deterrent against overly physical play, the slipping special teams can affect other areas as well. Too often of late, the power play has let the Canucks down at key moments, not just failing to produce a timely goal but too often robbing them of momentum generated while drawing it. The question now is how to fix it.

The return of Ryan Kesler, who provides both a net front presence and a one-time option on the left side, from a fractured foot would help, but that's still likely at least a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, the consensus among those involved is they need to shoot more. Vancouver didn't get a single shot during an 81-second 5-on-3 in Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

"We're trying to find perfect lanes and we've had some good sequences but I think we have to get more dirty and get more pucks towards the net," said Alexandre Burrows, who has taken Kesler's place in front of opposition goalies. "You look at teams that are scoring a lot of goals, they are shooting a lot and the law of averages will get a puck to go in. We're still trying to be too cute."

The numbers back that up.

Statistics provided by the website Behindthenet.ca show the Canucks aren't shooting nearly as much this season with the man advantage as they did while dominating the last two. During 5-on-4 play, Vancouver averaged right around 56 shots per 60 minutes of power-play time during the past two seasons.

That number is down to 42.4 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 time this season. Because statistics suggest a strong link between shots and success on the power play, it should come as no surprise that the Canucks are struggling to score with the man advantage.

Ryan Kesler
Ryan Kesler
Center - VAN
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 5
SOG: 15 | +/-: -4

"We're almost a little tentative to pull the trigger," said defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who also correctly points out the Canucks have scored twice during the drought on shots that went into the net shortly after a power play expired. However, he agrees that overall, the power play it is struggling. "Shots are going to get blocked on the power pay and you are going to miss the net once in a while, but you can't be afraid to shoot the puck and that's what we're trying to reinforce right now, that we've got to keep shooting the puck."

It hasn't been as easy to do so without Kesler, who missed the first 12 games recovering from surgery on his shoulder and wrist and played only seven games before being forced out after blocking a shot. In addition to providing a determined puck retrieval and a strong net-front presence when the puck is at the point, Kesler gave the Canucks a right-shot, shoot-first mentality opposite of pass-always identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Without Kesler, the Canucks are devoid of a right-handed shot on their top power play unit, making it harder to get those valuable shots off with a group that runs almost exclusively through Henrik Sedin on the right half wall.

Vancouver is also missing righty-shooting defenseman Sami Salo, who left for Tampa Bay as a free agent in the summer. He was replaced by Jason Garrison, who scored 16 goals for the Florida Panthers last season and won the Canucks' hardest shot competition with a blast of more than 100 miles an hour. But after struggling to hit the net early with the Canucks, Garrison plays mostly only on the second power-play unit, if at all.

Not that it changes the dynamic that much -- Garrison also shoots left.

"Maybe you have to really focus on setting up on the left side so you can get the left-shot one timers," Daniel Sedin said. "But we've got to be able to make it work anyways, so it shouldn't really matter. It shouldn't make a difference."

For the Canucks right now, the power play isn't making a difference either -- at least not one they want to think about.

Quote of the Day

It's a little different but it feels amazing. A new chapter in my life and I'm excited. It's been amazing. Better than I expected. The weather is great, the place is just amazing. I can't say enough good things about it. I'm glad to get the season going.

— Ryan Kesler on his transition to the Anaheim Ducks