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First Period Fury

by Kyle Harland / Vancouver Canucks
Canuck critics have been screaming the same message for the past few games, but it’s time for them to settle down. The Canucks hear them, loud and clear.

That message is that the Canucks can’t come from behind, and that they need to score the first goal. The message will no doubt have new life after the recent 4-2 loss to Minnesota.

But the fact is Vancouver’s giving it all they’ve got in the first period. The only thing they’re not doing is catching some breaks.

On Monday night, they outshot Minnesota 17-6 in the opening frame, but couldn’t find a way to score. It was reminiscent of their last game against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, when they dominated their opposition and outshot them 13-6 in period one, but still fell behind on 1-0 in an eventual 4-3 loss.

Trevor Linden said the first period performance in both those games was exactly what they hoped it would be – apart from not getting the goals. “We really did what we had to do, we just didn’t get rewarded for it. If we keep doing it, hopefully we’ll get rewarded for it.”

It’s true that the Canucks have had trouble coming from behind. After Minnesota’s game, they are 0-17-1 when trailing after the second period, and 2-12-3 when trailing after one.

The best way to combat that, of course, is to play with the lead. And the best way to get the lead is to come out in the first period and outshoot and outchance your opponent.

The trouble is, that’s exactly what Vancouver’s been doing lately. Over their last two games, they’ve outshot their opponents a combined 30-12 in the first period, and have looked to be the dominant team.

After their opening offensive, they weren’t giving up, either. They way they’ve been playing when trailing doesn’t make them look like a team incapable of a comeback. After their 17 first period shots against Minnesota, they came back with 25 more over the next two periods, amassing 40 shots for the second game in a row. They had 46 against the Kings.

So what’s wrong? They team is playing well, but not picking up the two points. Coach Alain Vigneault says no matter how well you play, you’re not always going to come out with a win in this league. And there’s just not a whole lot for his team to fix.

“Our record lately is definitely in my mind not indicative of the way we’ve been playing,” he said.

“We’re going to make some mistakes out there. We’re going to give up some chances. But in general, we’ve been outplaying the opposition, outchancing them, not been able to get that timely goal to go ahead and maybe make the other team open up, and getting that timely save to give us a little bit of momentum. You have to stick with what you believe in, and I think our process and work ethic right now is really, really good.”

With 86 shots on net in the last 120 minutes of hockey, the Canucks are executing the offensive plan they want. “We’ve been talking about it since the beginning of the year: generating more pucks to the net, more shots, more traffic, etcetera. We did all that tonight – except couldn’t finish,” said Vigneault.

So while Vancouver’s recent record won’t agree, the Canucks have actually been playing some pretty good hockey, and Vigneualt says it’s only a matter of time before things start to go their way.

“We look a lot like the team last year at one point that might have been struggling to score goals and to win games, and then turned the corner and went on a big stretch,” he said. “Last year we started our stretch after Christmas, maybe this year we’ll start it after the All-Star break.”

1st – regulation loss for the Canucks when Alex Burrows scores

5 – Games in a row the Canucks have given up the first goal

7 – Shots for Taylor Pyatt

86 – shots for the Canucks over their last two games

26:13 – ice time for Ohlund, leading all skaters

The Canucks had another great offensive performance, but just couldn’t finish off their plays.

They had 40 shots and were buzzing around Niklas Backstrom all night. The puck just wasn’t going in for them.

The Canucks probably saw a few more odd-man rushes than they would have liked, but that will happen to any team trying to come from behind by activating their defense.

Despite the four goals allowed, it was a good defensive performance that kept snipers Gaborik and Demitra off the scoresheet.

The Canucks haven’t allowed a power play goal in their last three games. That said, they haven’t scored one either.

But Minnesota had two more power play opportunities, and have a potent one-two punch with Gaborik and Demitra, so give the decision to Vancouver’s special teams in this contest.
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