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Penalties Killer

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
 Last season, the Vancouver Canucks rode the league’s best penalty kill to a Northwest Division title. This season, those same Canucks might have their road PK to blame if they miss the playoffs altogether.

The Canucks gave up two powerplay goals – and a third just after a penalty expired – as they dropped a 4-0 decision to the Minnesota Wild. The loss leaves Vancouver in ninth place in the Western Conference.

The Canucks have now given up 42 powerplay goals on the road this season. Not only is that good for third-worst in the entire National Hockey League, but it’s more than double the number the Canucks have allowed at home (19). Vancouver’s PK percentage on the road heading into play Friday night was 79.2, good for 24th in the 30-team league.

In 2006-07, the ‘Nucks killed penalties on the road at an 84.2% clip, good for sixth overall. That unit took the second most road penalties of any team in the league. This season? The Canucks, again, sit in second. Fatigue is clearly not the answer for the dropoff.

With the Canucks having lost four consecutive games in regulation – three of which came on the road – the PK’s struggles have been especially apparent. Vancouver has given up six powerplay goals in those four games, and, again, another that was scored just after Alex Edler stepped out of the box.

The home PK – in contrast – is second best in the league. Because the Canucks kill penalties at GM Place at an 88% rate, their overall rank is a respectable 12th. In 2006-07, Vancouver had the best penalty-killing unit at home, converting at a gaudy 89.6%.

Perhaps the best move Alain Vigneault could have made Friday night was hypnotizing his team into believing they were playing a home game. He didn’t and the PK predictably struggled.

Pierre Marc-Bouchard got Minnesota on the board with his first goal in 19 games 11:37 into the first period. With penalty-killing ace Ryan Kesler in the penalty box, the Canucks had three chances to clear the zone but failed on all three. First, Sami Salo’s attempt was picked off by Bouchard. Then Willie Mitchell’s was blocked by Mikko Koivu. Mitchell was stymied again shortly thereafter by Brent Burns. Given its fourth lease on life, the PP finally capitalized, as Bouchard fired a slapper through a screen to make it 1-0 Wild.

Less than six minutes later, Minnesota was up by two. With Edler in the box for delay of game, Mitchell overskated a Trevor Linden pass and allowed Chris Simon to walk in all alone on Luongo. The Vancouver netminder made a brilliant blocker save but the Canucks never recovered, chasing the Wild around until Koivu walked off the goal line and snapped one short side.

With the Canucks getting off to a much better start in the second period, a comeback was by no means out of the question. But with Byron Ritchie off for high-sticking, the Wild iced it.

Burns found a soft spot in the slot and Gaborik hit him with a quick pass that Burns one-timed past the blocker of Luongo. Alex Burrows was a millisecond too late in getting to Burns, allowing the Wild defenseman just enough time to give his team a three-goal lead.

The only powerplay Minnesota, essentially, failed to capitalize on on this night was an abbreviated one. Taylor Pyatt hooked Aaron Voros with 1:17 to go and was sent off for two minutes. But in a sign of just how rough a night the PK had, even its lone kill didn’t come easy. A Kim Johnsson slapshot hit the post and stayed out.

The good news for Vancouver is that its remaining four games are all at home. Not only do the Canucks kill penalties far better at GM Place, but the team overall has a superior record when it plays on home ice (20-12-5 as opposed to 18-18-5).

Over the past two seasons, Vancouver has certainly demonstrated it has the ability to kill penalties and kill them at a high percentage. If the Canucks are to make the playoffs in 2007-08, the PK might well have to carry them there.

4 – Shots on goals each for Markus Naslund and Daniel Sedin to lead all Canucks.

5 – Minutes for fighting for Jeff Cowan. Cowan valiantly came to Kevin Bieksa’s defense and fought the much bigger Derek Boogaard after Boogaard took a run at Bieksa midway through the third.

9 – Goals allowed on 44 shots by Roberto Luongo in his last two games. That’s a save percentage of .795. Luongo was pulled in back-to-back games for the first time since December 2005.

25 – Minutes in penalties for Alex Burrows. Burrows was issued a match penalty in the third period.

26:04 – Of ice-time for Bieksa to lead all skaters.

The offense didn’t generate much of anything. The newly reunited line of Henrik, Daniel, and Taylor Pyatt was split up for good in the second period.

The defense had another rough night, even though the Canucks were generously credited with just six giveaways. The Wild had no trouble giving whatever shot they wanted and great saves by Luongo and Sanford kept this game from getting even further out of hand.

The PP was 0-for-5 and missed out on two first-period chances that could have really changed the complexion of this game. The PK? Well, read the article to your left.
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