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Loud and Clear

by Kyle Harland / Vancouver Canucks
It might have taken a few games to sink in, but the Canucks finally got the message.

They shot the puck and got some dirty goals.

The game between the Canucks and Capitals on Friday night had some great offensive excitement, but none of the five goals was exactly what you'd call pretty.

Daniel Sedin opened the scoring by shoveling a loose puck in the slot past a scrambling Olaf Kolzig on the power play. Michael Nylander tied the game with a carbon copy of Sedin's first goal. Taylor Pyatt probably got the prettiest one of the night when he barged in on the Caps defense, caused a turnover, and poked the puck through Kolzig.

Pyatt got his second of the night by smacking Brendan Morrison's off-the-crossbar rebound into a vacant net, and Alex Ovechkin rounded out the scoring by scooping a puck off the end boards and sliding it past Roberto Luongo.

The point is that there were no odd-man rush goals. No breakaway goals. No tic-tac-toe goals. Save for Pyatt's goal, all of them were about getting a shot, scrambling the defense, and getting men in front of the goal.

"We got more shots than we've got pretty much the whole year," said Sami Salo after the game. That's not entirely true - the Canucks had 26 shots tonight, and have bettered that figure three other times this season - but it's easy to see why Salo would feel that way.

It's the most shots for the Canucks during their four game road trip by a big margin. And considering Salo's only other game this season was the 15-shot performance against Detroit, Friday's count of 26 must have seemed astronomical.

"I think we've been trying a little too hard - trying to look for fancy plays instead of shooting and going hard for the rebounds," Salo said.

Not Friday. Against the Capitals, it seems that the problem was finally fixed. It was a sight for sore eyes after hitting the net 20 or fewer times in the three road games prior to this one.

A big part of the reason for the higher shot count was the defense. The team had been talking about doing the simple things, like getting the puck back to the point, and just getting the puck on net.

Friday night, the defense accounted for nearly half of the shot production, with 12 of the 26. Mattias Ohlund and Kevin Bieksa each had four, while Alexander Edler - a culprit of passing too often when he had a shooting lane against the Red Wings on Wednesday - had three shots in less than 11 minutes of playing time.

When the defense is throwing the puck at the net, forcing the opposition defense to chase the puck around and abandon their structure, it's always good for the offense. Tonight it was the power play that reaped the reward of the Canuck shots, going 2-for-5. But 5-on-5 they created some good chances as well.

The Canucks will be happy with the win, as they take two wins of four games from what could have been a much worse road trip. The return home won't exactly be welcoming though, as they're scheduled to play the Red Wings on Sunday. If you watched Wednesday's game, you know how unpleasant that can be.

So the Canucks can't get too far ahead of themselves. Even though their shot production was a drastic improvement compared to the rest of their season, they were still outshot by the Capitals 28-26. Their offense grinded to a halt for most of the third period, and they only got five shots that frame. And they still haven't yet hit the 30-shot mark in 60-minutes once this season.

So they're not done climbing the hill. But if Friday's game is any indication of what's to come, they'll be getting to the top soon enough.

500 - points for Naslund as Captain of the Vancouver Canucks

4 - game losing streak snapped for Roberto Luongo

3496 - days since the Capitals have beaten the Canucks in regulation

35 - percent of faceoffs won by the Canucks

3 - Canuck players with four shots each

Finally generated some shots, which allowed them to win the game. The Canucks were approaching 30 shots until the Caps turned it on at the end of the third, and they finished with 26 instead.

The top six forwards skated harder and were ready to get their noses dirty against the Caps after being called out by the coach.

Certainly their best performance of the road trip. The play of the top four defensemen finally started to resemble that of last year's  - and that's a healthy sign.

The Canucks power play worked well, going 2-for-5 (40 percent) on the night. It was the difference in the game. The defense were getting their shots through, and the extra man generated lots of opportunity.

The penalty kill went just 2-for-4, but one of those goals came with Kolzig pulled, and despite that stat, the Canuck squad did well defending against the five dangerous forwards that manned the Caps power play unit.
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