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Penalties killer

by Daniel Bordignon / Vancouver Canucks
It's seemingly a broken record at GM Place - as if Canuck fans are stuck in an alternative dimension being forced to watch reruns of the same horrifying game.

It's one in which Vancouver is competing in a tight game with back-and-forth action and equal scoring chances at both ends, and then the sin bin comes a calling.

In the second period, Vancouver gave up four minor penalties in the span of 9 minutes and 22 seconds. In that time they surrendered two 5-on-3 powerplays, and consequently two powerplay goals. These tallies added to the Oilers lead and left the Canucks three goals down halfway through the game.

“It’s tough [to continuously take consecutive penalties], it’s one thing to be 5-on-4, it’s another thing to be 5-on-3,” said Curtis Sanford, who turned away 20 of the 23 shots he faced.

”We’re finding ourselves in way too many situations like that and it is showing up on the scoreboard. It’s not a lack of effort [that we are taking penalties], it is if we are taking them in the offensive zone, but there were a couple times where guys were coming in through the middle and sometimes those penalties have to be taken. It’s the 5-on-3’s that are killing us right now.”

It is no secret that the Canucks are the most penalized team in the NHL accumulating 704 PIM to date, and this not-so-great feat is not necessarily a new trend for the boys in blue. In fact Vancouver finished last year with the second most accumulated penalties in league, only behind the bruising Anaheim Ducks.

It doesn’t take a genius to run some numbers or to recognize weaknesses, and its safe to say that the Canuck locker-room is more than aware of the problem.

“For whatever reason the last few years we have taken a lot of penalties, at times you get by [with doing that] but tonight they scored two goals on the 5-on-3 and it obviously cost us the game,” said Mattias Ohlund. “We’re absolutely [aware of too many penalties], we talk about it a lot and we have to find a way to stay out of the penalty box.”

While the quantity of the penalties proves to be one problem, the types of penalties that are being assessed exist as another issue on its own. Taking down an opponent on a breakaway can be deemed as a good penalty, putting the hook on the opposition 200-feet from your net is not.

All of the four minors called in that nine-minute span were of the undisciplined variety that included hooking, tripping, and slashing. Infractions that could arguably be avoidable with three extra glides or the sense not to raise a stick on the opposition.

“That was our first point to our team again tonight, to make sure that we stay discipline, we want our guys to play with an edge and we know sometimes we are going to take some penalties because of it, but the ones that make you 5-on-3 or the ones 200-feet from your net are challenging and they were again tonight,” said Coach Alain Vigneault.

Starting off the parade to the box was Daniel Sedin with a slash in the offensive zone, followed by Ohlund tripping up an Oiler behind the Vancouver net on the powerplay. This gave Edmonton their first of two 5-on-3 advantages in the second period, and Shawn Horcoff was able to fire home a cross-crease pass from Ales Hemsky; beating Curtis Sanford low on the right-hand side, as the Vancouver netminder was moving to his left.

Already down two goals, Kevin Bieksa took a tripping minor nearly seven minutes later. He was then joined in the box by Alex Burrows who, while killing off the Edmonton powerplay, slashed Sheldon Souray at the right point. With another two-man advantage Souray was able to unleash a point shot that fought its way through Curtis Sanford and into the Vancouver net.

“That has to stop [the amount of penalties], we all know we’re the most penalized team in the league,” said Assistant Captain Ryan Kesler, who finished the game with three shots on goal and 53% in the faceoff circle. “We all are aware of it and I think each individual guy has to look at themselves and work to eliminate the unnecessary ones.”

The Canucks are quick to dismiss any suggestion that their penalty trouble is due to unlucky calls or bad officiating.

“We deserve most of our penalties probably, we’re putting ourselves in bad situations and we’re not being cautious of where our stick is,” said Kevin Bieksa, who recorded one assist and served two minor penalties on his own.

“We just got to be a little more discipline in our play, it goes without saying that it has to be a team effort.”

If it was possible to remove that nine-minute span from the game, Vancouver’s effort becomes instantly more impressive and they could be the club walking away with the two points tonight.

The concern that persists revolves around this trend continuing to cost the Canucks games that they deservingly should win. With the conference as tight as it is, a dropped point here and there due to indiscipline penalties can go a long way in determining the club’s post-season fate, a fact that is recognized by Vigneault.

“It’s an issue that obviously has hurt us since the beginning of the year and that we are trying to address with our core group, and for our sake hopefully we find a solution to it soon.”

2 – Assists in the game for Alex Edler.

4 – Shots blocked by Mattias Ohlund Friday night.

– Penalty minutes dished out to the Canucks in the 2nd period.

21 – Hits thrown by the Canucks in a physical game.

28 – Combined shots by Vancouver.

Wellwood tipped in his 13 of the season on the powerplay early in the third.

Raymond, in a 3-star outing, netted his 9th of the season to reverse the tide.

After a slow first period, and a penalty-riddled second, the Canucks forwards put on a show in the third with 14 shots and tons of possession.

The Canucks held the Oilers to a total of only 9 shots in the first and third periods.

Playing 5-on-5, they stifled the Oilers top line of Nilsson, Gagner, and Hemsky holding them to no points and 5 shots.

Sanford turned away 20 of 23 shots .

Gave up 4 minor penalties in 9:22 minutes in the second, including two 5-on-3 power plays.

Edmonton was 2 for 6 on the power play, converting on both two-man advantages.

Vancouver went 1 for 6, also capitalizing on their own 5-on-3 powerplay.

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