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Joey Kenward: Facing former friends

by Joey Kenward / Vancouver Canucks

Whether it’s in the pre-season, regular season, or post season, there’s no doubt players get fired up to play their former team.

In the case of Christian Ehrhoff, the timing could not be better to prove the San Jose Sharks made a mistake in letting him go.

The 28 year-old defenseman played an integral role for the Canucks in opening up the Western Conference Finals with the Sharks on Sunday night. While he didn’t score a goal, he was definitely Vancouver’s most offensive-minded rearguard as he was credited with four shots on net. Combine that with three more shots that either missed the target or were blocked, plus his three hits on opposing skaters, and you would probably agree that’s a decent night at the rink for an experienced defenseman.

More from KENWARD

Joey Kenward is into his third season as the Canucks broadcaster/reporter for the Team 1040.

Follow Joey on Twitter: @kenwardskorner

However it was a decision to pass rather than shoot that proved to be the most valuable play Ehrhoff made all night.

While working the man advantage, Ehrhoff took a pass from Ryan Kesler at the point. Instead of shooting from the blue line, he saw space open up near the top of the crease where Henrik Sedin was heading. A quick hard pass along the ice found Vancouver’s captain, who made little mistake beating goalie Antti Niemi.

“It was a great momentum boost,” said Ehrhoff of the game-winning goal. “Obviously the timing to get that goal was important with the game being tied 2-2 at that point.”

Timing is everything in the playoffs. Canucks fans hope that power play goal is the tonic that pushes the home team forward this series whenever they have the extra skater on the ice at Rogers Arena. Prior to that goal, the Canucks had gone a combined 1-for-21 on the power play this post season when skating at home.

With his assist on Vancouver’s winning goal in Game 1, Ehrhoff now finds himself leading the NHL playoffs in power play assists (6) while at the same time sitting 2nd overall in the league for total power play points (7). His two goals and eight assists have him sitting 2nd overall for points by a defenseman, two behind former team mate Dan Boyle (2g,10a).

Ehrhoff is appearing in his second playoffs with Vancouver after being acquired in a trade from San Jose in the summer of 2009. Counting Sunday’s game, Ehrhoff has played his former club eight times. While he has yet to score a goal against the Sharks, he has tallied five assists, four of which have come this year.

It’s no surprise that Vancouver’s players and coaches are leaning on Ehrhoff, as well as injured Canucks forward and former Shark Manny Malhotra, to get a better perspective as to what San Jose may bring to the table as this series moves along.

“They shared with us some of their tendencies and what they like to do,” says Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. “We’ve done our best to come up with a plan and we’ll see how it works out.”

“We play a very similar game,” adds Ehrhoff. “It’s two pretty much even teams going at it. While it’s definitely nice to get the first win, we have to focus on Game 2 and make sure we’re prepared and be ready to work for however long it takes.”

The native of Moers, Germany has entered this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs on the heels of his most productive season in the league. In 79 games this year, Ehrhoff collected 14 goals while chipping in a career-best 36 assists. That gave him a season-high 50 points to finish off a year that saw him reach the 500-game mark for his career.

Having once sat in the San Jose locker room during the playoffs, he knows full well that adjustments are expected from the Sharks. Ehrhoff also knows the same thing will likely take place for the Canucks in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We worked really hard and spent enough time in their end to get the job done,” says Ehrhoff. “There’s always going to be some adjustments from game to game. I know they’ll look to play better, but so will we.”

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