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Changing The Game

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

By: Kevin Kinghorn

There has been more ink devoted to the 'new NHL rules' this pre-season than Raphael Palmeiro, Lance Armstrong and Casey Printer's agent have garnered in the past six months combined.

Some said the removal of the red line was going to turn the NHL into the one-ice version of the NBA with double-digit scoring and fouls for sideways glancing.
Others said it would turn it into a slightly more physical version of the Swedish Elite league where teams see a power play as an opportunity to deploy an even more stifling trap.

After seven pre-season games it's clear neither scenario will play out quite the way extremists predicted, but it has changed.

"It's been a big difference for sure," says Daniel Sedin, who, along with his brother Henrik and their tenacious cycling game, should theoretically benefit from changes aimed at increasing offense.

"If you get a step on a guy, you can't do anything. You used to get a stick around your stomach, or around your hands, and now you can't do that. So if you have a step, he's pretty much done. I think that's a good thing."

Daniel finished the pre-season with a team-leading four goals and his brother Henrik racked up six points. While they've enjoyed a bountiful pre-season, the Canucks on a whole, haven't.

Many believed the league's new zero-tolerance approach clutching and grabbing, and the elimination of the red line, would perfectly mesh with the Canucks' up-tempo, offensive style.

However, the Canucks lost their first four exhibition contests - and averaged just two goals per game - before winning the last three. They did blow out the Oilers in their final pre-season warm-up 6-2, but over the course of the exhibition season, Vancouver averaged just over three goals per-game.

"It's going to take some time to get used to it," explains Daniel. "You have to learn how to take advantage of it. But there is lots more flow out there and open ice."

"Maybe we were buying into what people were saying about our potential and not recognizing what it's going to take to make us successful," says Trevor Linden.

"Everybody said the new rules would benefit our club. They will, but not if we don't fundamentally play well, move the puck, be in position to receive passes and drive the net. All those little things we weren't doing a good job of early."

Whether it was a commitment to fundamentals, as Linden points out, or simply adjusting to the loss of the red line and a shorter neutral zone, the Canucks did manage to exploit at least one change with relative ease.

With players fighting well-ingrained tendencies to hook, hold and generally slow down their opponent, there were a swack of penalties in pre-season. On average, the Canucks split roughly 20 power plays a game with their opponents.

That was a boon for Marc Crawford's highly skilled bench. They went 18-for-72 with the man advantage for a whopping 25 per cent power play efficiency rate that was second best in the entire NHL.

According to Richard Park, that's also why the Canucks struggled to score at even strength. It wasn't that Vancouver couldn't adjust to the new rules so much as they weren't getting much time playing five-on-five.

"I think obviously when you're going to get ten chances more a game on the power play - give or take a few - odds are there are going to be more special team scoring."

The other factor, according to the Korean-born speedster, is the overall ability of NHL athletes.

"I think [the lack of scoring] a testament to the skill level of the hockey players. Even with the new rules, it's being able to adapt to whatever system your team is playing, and do it well."

Park should know. After three years locked in the offensive gulag that's Jacques Lemaire's Minnesota Wild defensive scheme, he's being given a chance to use his natural speed and quick hands for something other than checking.

It's a big adjustment to make, but he's not alone.Like most of his teammates, Bryan Allen likes the new changes, but says it's especially tough on the defense.

"It's definitely different for us," explains the 6-foot-4 defender. "You have to think a bit more about what you can and cannot get away with, especially in our own zone and in the corners."

"I find especially hard in the front of the net on point shots. It's difficult because you don't want to take a chance by knocking a guy down and getting a penalty. And being a physical player, it's sometimes hard."

And Allen says it will only get harder once the regular season starts.

"I think for forwards, once they get used to their lines and playing with one another again, they'll really be at an advantage. It's going to be that much harder for us defensemen."

Despite the difficulties the new changes will present, Allen approves of the new rules. They're changes that can only help a team like the Canucks who press the attack and like to challenge one-on-one.

"I think you'll really notice it once we get a full team in place and we start playing with our regular lines and our new systems. I think it'll take a little bit of time, but guys are getting used to it."

And with the skill on the Canuck bench, when they do get used to it, there's no question it'll be a prettier game to watch.

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