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All Systems Go

by Kyle Harland / Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks continued their roll against the Flames on Sunday night, and it was Captain Markus Naslund who led the team’s solid play.

“It was definitely one of his best games so far this year,” said Coach Alain Vigneault. “I thought he was solid at both ends of the rink. I mean, he made two great plays offensively, he’s back-checking real hard, doing everything that we expect him to do. I’m really happy that he’s got his game at this level right now.”

Naslund assisted on the game-winning goal, and added a tally of his own, to bring his point total to 14 on the year (six goals and eight assists). He was on the ice for three of the Canucks’ four goals, finishing plus-2 on the night.

His pass to Willie Mitchell for the game-winner was a work of art. “Markus made a picture perfect pass,” said Mitchell about his first goal of the season. “There was a bit of a hole and I went down there and basically tapped it in. He’s playing great.”

Most of the time when Naslund and the Sedins were on the ice on Sunday, they created something. “It’s nice to play with guys that you’re clicking with,” said the captain.

Though that line impressed with a combined six points, the rest of the team followed the good example set by their leader.

The Flames were probably expecting some shaky Canuck defense with their depleted lineup, but what they encountered was anything but that.

With Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo out with injuries, and Mattias Ohlund serving the first game of a four game suspension, the Canucks had to once again rely on their young defense to fill in. And Lukas Krajicek, who was not expected to come back until the middle of the week after an ankle injury, was asked to play despite the fact he hadn’t had much time for conditioning or practice.

“I thought he played safe,” said Vigneault. “We gave him minutes for him to feel his way through, and it worked out well. I thought he played a good game.”

As for youngsters Luc Bourdon and Alex Edler, they continued their efforts that have been instrumental in the Canucks recent successes.

“The young guys have stepped in and done a terrific job for us,” said Mitchell. “Alex has been terrific, Luc’s been terrific, and that’s what you need when you have injuries.”

After just six games with the team this season, Bourdon is quietly emerging as one of the team’s plus/minus leaders, at plus-four. Edler, through 12 games, has the same rating.

Seeing the safe defensive play is reassuring after the Canucks’ back end opened the season with a few problems to work out. “Systematically we’re much more sound [than we were],” said Mitchell. “It’s night and day. Passes are there. Support is there. Coverage is there.”

To round out the solid team play against the Flames was, as no surprise, was Roberto Luongo. He stopped 29 shots, and didn’t let the Flames get back into the game after the Canucks had the lead.

“Louie has been Louie,” said Naslund. “And as of late, he’s been huge.”

Sunday night’s game against the Flames was one of the Canucks’ most promising of the year, mostly because they exemplified just how an NHL team should function: The captain and his linemates led the team. The other three forward lines were solid at both ends of the rink. The defense kept the opponent’s top guns in check and supported the offense. And the goalie was solid.

The Canucks showed that all systems are go – despite their rash of injuries. And if they can hold onto their consistency, they’ll be atop the Northwest Division in no time.

5:02 – Consecutive power play time for the Flames at the beginning of the second period, including two 5-on-3s. Canucks killed it all.

10 – wins and zero losses for the Canucks when leading after two periods this year.

10 – goals for the Canucks in their last two games.

8 – wins against division rivals this year for the Canucks, and zero regulation losses.

7 – wins against Calgary in their last ten games against each other.

Four goals is ample offense for this team to win, so it gets good marks for its play on Sunday night. The shooting leveled off as the game progressed (10-6-5=21), but the Canucks had good pressure in all periods.

Gave up 30 shots, but kept most of them to the outside so Luongo could make the saves. Louie had to bail them out on occasion, but overall the Canucks played a solid, safe defensive game.

The game’s turning point was at the beginning of the second period when the Canucks took three penalties in a row, giving the Flames 5:02 straight power play time, including two 5-on-3s. The PK units killed it all off to keep the game tied at one, after which they were able to break open the lead.
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