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Canucks pay the price

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks are only 12 games into the season and already it's become glaringly evident what is going to make or break them.

When the Canucks thrive on special teams, take last Thursday's 4-0 win over Los Angeles for example, they win, when they flounder like they did Sunday night against the Detroit Red Wings, they lose.

The damage was only 3-2 in favour of the Wings, but Henrik Zetterberg's game-winner came on a 5-on-3 power play and was Detroit's third power play marker of the game.

The Red Wings finished 3-for-5 overall leaving little doubt that the top rated power play in the league can sink a team at will.

"They made us pay," shrugged Roberto Luongo, who finished the game with 20 saves. "We've been struggling a bit lately and they have a great power play so we're going to have to work on [our penalty kill] a bit. It's a huge part of our team and our game and we've got to make sure we're pinpoint on that."

The Canucks, on the other hand, finished 0-for-7 while up a man as their ninth ranked PP unit was surrounded with missed opportunities and in a one-goal game, that just can't happen.

It wasn't a matter of what Vancouver didn't do while on the power play and at even strength though, it was what Detroit's did that made the difference in suffocating the Canucks.

"I think you've got to give them a lot of credit, they do a great job at utilizing their speed," said coach Alain Vigneault.

"A lot of people talk about Detroit, obviously they're the Stanley Cup defending champions, one of the reasons I think they are the Stanley Cup defending champions is they play so well defensively.

"When they don't have the puck, they do a great job in their forecheck, they've always got out numbers in the neutral zone, they've got active sticks all over the ice, they backcheck, probably like the best team in the league. It's not as much their puck possession game as it is what they do when they don't have the puck, whether it be five-on-five or killing penalties. People underestimate how good they are that way."

The game-winning goal was scored with just over a minute to play in the second period with the Wings up two players, they rhythmically danced around Vancouver's three skaters before Zetterberg beat Luongo up high from in close.

During that two-man advantage, Sami Salo and Willie Mitchell were concurrently serving time for cross-checking on two different occasions within 25 seconds of each other, penalties that cost the Canucks the game and were contested by Vancouver afterwards.

"I thought both those penalties, Sami Salo's and [Willie Mitchell's], both of them were questionable," Vigneault said. "You're going to get calls like that and you've got to deal with it and you've got to kill penalties, that's what you have to do."

"If we stay out of the box, we win the game, bottom line," added Alex Burrows, the culprit of an interference penalty that gave the Red Wings their third power play of the game and ultimately a 2-0 lead.

"Myself included, if guys take sloppy penalties or if they're bad calls, whatever you can call them, we just have to make sure that we stay out of the box and win the game."

Vancouver was bogged down by players serving time throughout the first two periods, but in the third Mason Raymond was the only Canuck to serve time and it made a huge difference in the game.

The Canucks, really for the first time all night, attacked the Red Wings in waves as each line had at least two quality scoring chances in the final 20 minutes. Vancouver was being outshot 20-14 after two periods, they finished ahead in shots 27-23 in the end.

"We were buzzing there, we had some good chances," said Burrows. "I think Osgood made some big saves, we got some rebounds on him, got some shots with traffic, but we couldn't find a way."

"If we would have played like that all 60 minutes I think we would have won the game. We were a desperate team there in the third, we gave them everything we had, but came up short. We had some chances, but couldn't find a way to play like that for 60."

The upside of the fact that Vancouver is now back to .500 on the season at 6-6-0, is that they got a first hand lesson in how special teams should be played and that can only benefit the club as they continue their season-high six-game homestand Tuesday night against the streaking Nashville Predators.

"They move the puck quick," Burrows said of the Red Wings' power play. "All five guys can really shoot the puck, some teams have one shooter and two passers, but they've got five guys that can shoot the puck and make plays and those guys do really well so it makes it tough to play against that kind of power play."

The Canucks are only 12 games into the season meaning there are still 70 left to be played, that's plenty of time for the team to fix whatever is ailing them on special teams.

Power play goals given up by Vancouver against Detroit

7 Power play chances the Canucks failed to convert on

9 – Penalties taken by Vancouver

– Ice time for Kevin Bieksa who led all Canucks

700th – Career game for Mattias Ohlund

Vancouver's offence failed to get anything going in the first two periods because the team was playing shorthanded, but in the third they came to life. The Canucks threw everything except their sticks and helmets at Chris Osgood, the netminder stood his ground until time expired. In short, it was too little, too late.

Overall this was a good game defensively for Vancouver, Detroit's three goals all came on the power play so the Canucks were able to keep the Red Wings off the scoresheet with the teams at even strength.

The defence was a little sloppy late in the game, but it was the result of players taking chances with the Canucks looking for the equalizer.

Special teams was the story of the game. Detroit executed well and won, Vancouver struggled and they lost, it's actually that simple.

Vancouver only took five penalties, but against the top rated power play in the league, that's five too many.

The worst stat of the night is that the Canucks were 0-for-7 on the power play, just when it looked like the team was coming to life in that department, they go and do this.

Vancouver deserves some of the blame, a lot of credit goes to Detroit though, they know how to kill penalties like it's nobody's business.
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