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Captain Confidence

by Kyle Harland / Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks suffered another disappointing loss Tuesday, but it wasn’t for lack of inspiration from their captain.

Markus Naslund turned in one of his best performances of 2008, scoring two goals in regulation and one in the shootout, helping the Canucks earn a valuable point in a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars.

12:50 into the first period, Naslund opened the scoring by one-timing a pretty Mason Raymond pass top corner from the slot. It was his seventh power play goal of the season.

His second tally came with just 1:13 left in the second period, as he took a pass from Byron Ritchie from behind the net and showed great patience to get the better of Marty Turco. The Stars’ goalie ended up floundering around outside the crease as Naslund skated to the bottom of the left circle from the deep slot. With an empty net, Nazzy still made sure of the goal, rifling a shot top shelf to notch his 19th of the season.

If he can get one more marker, he will hold the Canucks record for most consecutive 20-goal seasons with nine. He’s currently tied with Stan Smyl, who has eight.

It was easy to see that Naslund had the hot hand, and that prompted Alain Vigneault to choose him to shoot first in the shootout. Though he’s the captain of the team and second in goal scoring, Naslund has been far from a shoe-in when it comes to the breakaway competition.

Coming into this game, of the 10 shootouts the Canucks had participated in this year, Naslund had only gotten the call three times. He had failed to score on all of them.

But tonight, Naslund looked like a shooter who scored 90% of the time. He weaved down the ice, got Turco moving, and snapped a firm shot off of the post and in to beat the goalie stick-side. Jussi Jokinen equalized on the Stars’ first attempt, but Naslund’s goal kept the Canucks in the shootout until the sixth round when Brendan Morrow put away the game.

It wasn’t just his offensive play that looked good. With a beat up defense corps and four rookies manning the blue line, the Canucks needed extra help from their forwards on the backcheck. Naslund was one of the best, as a number of times he used his speed to get back and break up what had promised to be dangerous rushes until he arrived on the scene.

The Stars’ didn’t score on Naslund’s watch, and he finished the game at plus-1.

The captain’s strong outing comes on the heels of another impressive game in Florida, in which he notched two assists in an eventual 4-3 shootout loss. Along with his two goals in Dallas, it’s the first time since late November that the Naslund has had back-to-back multipoint games.

The strong push from number 19 was certainly important in earning a point in the tight Western Conference playoff race. But more importantly, it gives the players a person to look to during their most frustrating slump of the season. In the playoff drive, team leadership plays a big role in whether teams make it or miss it.

Right now, the man with the “C” is doing everything he can to ensure his team makes it.

4 – Canucks rookies on the blue line

12 – shots blocked by the Canucks defense

33 – days since the Canucks have won in regulation

13:20 – ice time for Zach Fitzgerald in his first NHL game

28:53 – ice time for Alex Edler, leading all skaters and setting a personal high

The ever-thinning Canucks defense looked less than organized at times. They did well to get sticks in passing lanes, but board battles and zone clears were more difficult than they should be.

With the inexperienced defense, forwards were charged with more defensive responsibilities tonight. That meant breaking out of the zone was difficult because they were lower down in their zone, and as a result it looked challenging for the Canucks to create scoring chances.

The Canucks went a perfect 1-for-1 on their power play against the top PK team in the NHL, scoring a crucial goal that would help them get one point out of the game.

However, they gave up a goal to the Stars, who went 1-for-3. The Canucks played very conservatively for the two successful kills, allowing the Stars lots of possession but hardly any shots.
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