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Fight in the Northwest

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

By Josh Plummer

It's no secret the Canucks have struggled against their Northwest Division rivals. A little less respect and a bit more disdain would probably go a long way.

Vancouver are 5-9-1 versus teams from their own division, and based on recent history, those kinds of numbers won't get them over the playoff line come April.

In 2005-06, the Canucks had a respectable 15-12-5 record versus their foes from the Northwest but still fell three points shy of a playoff spot behind the Edmonton Oilers - and everyone knows what the Oilers did with that valuable playoff position.

"Our division is so tight and you can go from first place to last place within a week," said Alain Vigneault. "We have to play better in our division. Our players know that."

Vancouver hasn't been fortunate enough to be at the top of their division and looking down - for the most part they've been struggling to keep pace with other teams who are having more success navigating the Northwest.

The Canucks are the only Northwest team with a losing record against their division counterparts.

Other teams in the Western Conference who have losing records within their own division are the Columbus Blue Jackets (4-7-1), the Los Angeles Kings (5-11-2), the St. Louis Blues (4-8-3) and the Phoenix Coyotes (3-10-1).

On top of all that, these same teams and the Canucks (15-17-1) are the only ones in the entire Western Conference with losing records against other Western clubs.

It's not the kind of company the Canucks want to keep.

"It was our Achilles heel last season and so far this year it has been as well," said a frustrated Brendan Morrison. "Those are huge games. If you can beat teams in your own division, you have a much better chance of getting in at the end of the year and obviously that's our goal."

The Central is the only division in the Western Conference Vancouver continues to have success against. They were 10-9-1 last year and are 9-4-0 this season.

Unfortunately for the Canucks - they play only seven more games versus teams from the Central, although two are against Chicago and two are with St. Louis, two teams the Canucks have outscored 14-5.

The Canucks have flirted with top spot in the Northwest on and off for a month, but haven't managed to grab the flag. If they want to make the jump out of 11th spot in the Western Conference and into the top eight - they'll have to do it against the Northwest and Pacific Divisions.

Vancouver plays 18 games against the Northwest and 14 against the Pacific - the Canucks have only played Pacific division teams six times, but they'll make up for the unbalanced schedule near the end of the season in March and April.

But why stop with being satisfied with a top eight spot?

Vancouver can start their climb out of the division basement with solid performances in a home and home series against the Flames. In fact, the Canucks play three of their next four against the Flames and five of their next six against Northwest Division opponents.

"We can move up quite a bit if we have a good stint here. That's what we've got to look at," said Markus Naslund. "It's been a tough road trip for us. You have to recharge your batteries and hopefully get a fresh start after three days off."

A fresh start is exactly what the Canucks have been given.

Despite their woeful record against their division rivals, the Canucks are only one point out of first place in the Northwest and could be looking down on their opponents in the very near future - perhaps as early as next week. It's not out of the question.

Although being one of the top eight in the Conference and earning a trip to the post-season would probably suffice for almost every Canucks fan out there, why not set sights on winning the division? Aim high!

The Flames aren't talking about simply making the playoffs - they won't settle for anything less than first place and it's time for Vancouver to start thinking the same way.

Many people may not have envisioned the Canucks being in a fight for the division lead almost halfway through the season, but it's sitting there for the taking.

The team that wants it the most will go out and get it - plain and simple.

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