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Defensive TKO

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
In this corner, wearing blue and what appears to be some type of maroon, featuring the likes of Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny, Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk, Marek Svatos and Andrew Brunette, the Colorado Avalanche forwards!

And in the other corner, wearing white with a hint of blue and green, featuring Mattias Ohlund, Willie Mitchell, Aaron Miller, Mike Weaver, Alex Edler, and Luc Bourdon, the Vancouver Canucks defense!

If this was a heavyweight boxing match in Las Vegas, the bookies would almost certainly be backing the former option, not the latter. But Saturday night in Colorado, it was the underdog who pulled out a much needed TKO.

Daniel Sedin scored twice and Ryan Kesler and Brendan Morrison added goals of their own as Vancouver edged Colorado 4-3 at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche came in undefeated on home ice and were looking for a franchise record seventh consecutive win at home to start the season.

  They didn’t get it. Instead, Colorado’s high-powered offense was kept under wraps for most of the night.

At the forefront of the Vancouver victory were two young defensemen who, once the final horn rang, had a combined total of 39 regular season games between them in the NHL.

Luc Bourdon made his regular season debut with Vancouver after putting together an impressive start with the Manitoba Moose. At the time of his call-up, Bourdon was fourth amongst defensemen in American Hockey League scoring. His three goals for the season were more than the rest of the Moose defensemen combined.

  On Saturday night, Luc logged almost 14 minutes of ice time and was a +1. He looked confident in his own zone, didn’t try to do too much, and made some crisp passes on the power play that demonstrated his ability to thread the needle.

Goaltender Roberto Luongo told reporters after the game that he was impressed with what he saw.

“Luc played a really solid game and you could already tell that he’s developed and learned a lot from the few games he’s played in the AHL,” said Luongo.

As good as Bourdon was, Edler was even better.

Referred to by his teammates as “Mini Ohlie” for his remarkably Ohlund-esque on-ice demeanor, Edler played over 22 minutes, second most amongst Vancouver defensemen.

The 21-year old Swede saw critical ice time in the third period, including a shift in the final minute that demonstrated the confidence Vancouver’s coaching staff has in him.

But while Bourdon and Edler were arguably the stars of the evening, there was more than enough praise to go around for the rest of Vancouver’s defensemen.

Ohlund logged 25 minutes of ice time to lead all skaters. Without Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo, the veteran defenseman is certain to see many more nights like this one.

  Willie Mitchell was Willie Mitchell. He played a sound defensive game, was instrumental on the penalty kill, and helped keep the Colorado snipers in check.

Aaron Miller and Mike Weaver might very well have saved the game, albeit at different points.

With Vancouver up 3-2, Marek Svatos carried the puck into the Vancouver zone on a 2-on-1. With Mitchell racing to take away the pass, Miller deliberately overplayed Svatos and tipped the Colorado forward’s wrister over the glass. Vancouver made it 4-2 just a short time later.

Then, with the Avalanche on a late powerplay, Weaver made a great glove save on Sakic who found himself all alone with a ton of room on the short side. In what turned out to be a one goal game, Weaver’s save made all the difference.

Vancouver’s defensive performance Saturday night was as strong as it’s been this season, with the three goals they gave up being slightly misleading in regards to how well they played.

The question now becomes, can this defensive crew play at this high of a level for the entire time Bieksa and Salo are out of the lineup?

We’ll soon find out.

4 – Shots on goal for both Ryan Kesler and Markus Naslund to lead the team.

6 – Wins for Brendan Morrison in 17 opportunities in the faceoff circle. Needless to say, Brendan had a tough night.

8 – Points combined for the new line of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Naslund.

29 – Saves for Roberto Luongo who had a good bounce-back game after a tough outing against Nashville.

Vancouver improved to 5-0-0 in games in which they score at least four goals.

The Canucks didn’t generate a ton of 5-on-5 chances but hard work led directly to even strength goals by Daniel and Kesler.

Missing Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo, the defense did quite well to hold a high-powered Colorado offense in check for most of the night.

Mike Weaver’s glove save late in the third period highlighted a great effort by an inexperienced group.

The PP struck twice, including late in the third period to give Vancouver some breathing room.

The penalty kill gave up one goal but they’ll happily take that result against a Colorado team that came into this game with the sixth best PP on home ice.
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