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All About the Kill

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
Just when it looked like the Vancouver Canucks were returning to the form that saw them win last year’s Northwest Division title, their penalty kill let them down. Again.

Tom Gilbert, Shawn Horcoff, and Dustin Penner all tallied powerplay goals as the Edmonton Oilers knocked off the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 in a shootout Tuesday night at Rexall Place.

It was the second shootout win for Edmonton against Vancouver in less than a week. On Wednesday, Ales Hemsky netted the only goal of the game in the third round as Edmonton snuck past Vancouver 1-0.

The Canucks came into Tuesday’s contest with the 20th best penalty kill in the NHL. While that number is a far cry from last season when the team was the best in the league, Vancouver’s PK finally appeared to be on the upswing, having given up just one powerplay goal in twelve chances.

But the Oilers had their way with Vancouver with the man advantage, finishing 3-for-8. It was the fifth time this season the Canucks have given up more than one goal on the powerplay in a single game. Their record over that span is 1-3-1.

Vancouver’s penalty kill has now kept the opposing team off the scoresheet just six times in twenty games this season.

Once again playing without three of their top four defensemen, the Canucks got off to a tough start after Lukas Krajicek was sent off for holding just over two minutes in.

Gilbert snuck off the blueline and headed to the Vancouver net, looking for the backdoor pass. Mike Weaver read the play and slid across to break it up, but inadvertently gave the puck right back to Edmonton winger Geoff Sanderson. With Weaver now out of position, Sanderson fired a cross-crease pass to Gilbert who tapped the puck into the net before Roberto Luongo ever got set to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.

After Marty Reasoner made it 2-0, the Canucks PK got their lone highlight of the night, when Alex Burrows stripped Denis Grebeshkov at the Vancouver blueline and walked in all alone on Edmonton goaltender Mathieu Garon.

Burrows appeared to lose control of the puck as he reached the Oiler net, but regained it just in time to deke to the backhand and cut the Edmonton lead to 2-1 with the shorthanded marker.

Vancouver’s joy was short-lived, however, as Horcoff took advantage of an Aaron Miller turnover just 65 seconds later to restore the two-goal Edmonton lead. After Miller failed to clear the zone, Horcoff jumped on the loose puck and snapped a hard wrister past the blocker of Luongo to make it 3-1.

Goals by Brad Isbister, Alex Edler, and Markus Naslund eventually gave Vancouver a 4-3 third period lead.

But after Isbister took Vancouver’s second delay of game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass, the penalty kill couldn’t hold the one-goal advantage.

Horcoff beat Ryan Kesler on a critical faceoff and cleanly drew the puck back to Gilbert. Gilbert fed Ales Hemsky, who slid the puck over to Horcoff at the side of the net. In one motion, Horcoff directed a pass towards Penner, who rolled off the check of Willie Mitchell and beat Luongo five-hole to tie things up at 4.

In similar situations last season, the Vancouver PK continually found a way to get the big kill when the team needed it most.

And as well as these Canucks have played of late, they’ll need to once again find that flair for the dramatic if they’re to make something special of the 2007-08 season.

3 – Shorthanded goals for Vancouver so far this season. The team netted only 5 all of last year.

4 – Blocked shots for Aaron Miller.

5 – Shots on goal for Markus Naslund, who gave Vancouver its only lead of the night with a third period powerplay goal.

17 – Faceoff wins in 23 opportunities for Ryan Kesler, tops amongst all skaters.

Four goals, including unexpected tallies from Burrows, Isbister and Edler.

With 14 goals in their last three games, the offense looks as good as it ever has under Alain Vigneault.

Playing without Ohlund, Salo, and Bieksa, Vancouver’s defense finally showed some kinks.

The Canucks needed a half dozen big saves from Luongo just to stay in the game, as the Oilers generated a number of quality scoring chances.

The powerplay scored an important goal midway through the third period but failed to cash in on two late opportunities.

The penalty kill had a rough night and gave up three goals, including the marker that tied it midway through the third.
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