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Mr. Big Shot's Return

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
Sami Salo can walk like normal again.

King Kong is off his back.

Salo scored his first goal of the season as the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Calgary Flames 5-3 Thursday night at General Motors Place.

Salo took a feed from Alexander Edler late in the first period and wired a slapshot past the glove hand of Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. The powerplay marker made it 3-1 Vancouver and, perhaps just as importantly, ended a 22-game goalless drought for the Canucks defenseman.

“I had a feeling I might go the whole season without a goal,” said a visibly relieved Salo. “Alex made a good play back to me and I had a lot of time and, you know, there was good traffic and I just tried to take a shot and it just happened to go in.”

The goal came just a week after coach Alain Vigneault insisted his big gunner needed to shoot more. Salo believes the advice helped.

“I think probably the first fifteen games after I came back I probably was trying to, you know, look for other guys to pass the puck and it wasn’t really, you know, my game, which is obviously shooting the puck,” said Salo.

Vigneault hopes this is just the beginning of Salo’s resurgence.

“We've been talking about Sami getting more shots to the net and getting his shots through and not passing up an occasion,” said Vigneault. “We're all hoping, because we know his intentions are real good, that this is a foot in the right direction as far as, you know, getting more offense out of a player that – we need his offensive input.”

Salo scored 14 times in 67 games last season, with five of those tallies coming on the powerplay. The season before, Sami rippled the mesh 10 times in 59 games, with 9 of his markers being powerplay goals.

Part of Vancouver’s struggle with the man advantage so far this season can be attributed to the lack of a big shooter on the blue line. Opponents have far too often clamped down on the Sedins, as if daring Canuck defensemen to beat them with a slapper.

Markus Naslund, who drew the second assist on Salo’s goal, recognizes the importance of having #6 on top of his game.

“We started using Sami’s shot and I think that’s a key for our powerplay to open up the other down low plays,” said Naslund. “And it’s great to see Sami score.”

As big an offensive threat as Salo was, registering five shots and generating a buzz in the building every time he wound up, he might have been even better on the defensive end.

Paired up with Willie Mitchell and matched up against the high-scoring Jarome Iginla, Salo logged a team-high 24:37 and kept the Flames sniper in check. Iginla did register a powerplay goal on a deflection early in the first but he was quiet for most of the night.

“I thought that line with Willie and Sami did a great job tonight,” said Vigneault. “They didn’t give those other guys a lot of opportunities. It was an effective game in that sense and those guys did a pretty good job.”

3 – Goals allowed on deflections by Roberto Luongo, in a game that must have reminded Canucks fans of Game 6 vs Calgary in 2004. In that contest, Alex Auld allowed four tip-ins as the Flames rallied and sent the game to overtime.

5 – Goals allowed on 20 shots by Miikka Kiprusoff before he was yanked. For all the talk about how the Flames goaltender has turned his season around, he’s still given up 22 goals in his last seven starts.

5 – Points combined for the line of Jason Jaffray, Taylor Pyatt, and Mason Raymond.

801 – Career points for Markus Naslund, who finished the night with a pair of assists.

What offensive limitations? Vancouver tallied five goals for the third time in three weeks. More impressive than the sheer number of goals was the emergence of a consistent second line (Jaffray, Pyatt, Raymond).

It was a sloppy affair, to be sure. Vancouver was credited with nine giveaways, seven of which came from defensemen.

The powerplay looked as good as it has at any point this season. They had it working down low with the Sedins and up top with Salo. The penalty kill was up and down, giving up two goals on the one hand while looking very impressive during a Pyatt double-minor on the other.
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