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Rookies take charge

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver's second pre-season game of the 2008-09 season gave the hometown fans a chance to see their Canucks up close and personal for the first time and they certainly liked what they saw.

The Canucks took down the Oilers for the second consecutive night, this time by a 2-1 score. Unlike Monday's high-scoring affair which showcased the offensive prowess of both teams, Tuesday's contest was chippy, gritty and well-fought by both sides and in the end the blend of new and old Canucks were too much for the Oil.

Three Vancouver youngsters were making their Canucks debut and they ended up being the story of the game. Jannik Hansen, Michael Grabner and Cody Hodgson all skated under the bright lights at GM Place for the first time, but their inexperience was vacant for the most part.

Skating on a line with Henrik Sedin, Hansen and Grabner both displayed great poise in their decision making, the trio's chemistry was slow out of the gates but they came together midway through the second period to give the Canucks their second goal of the game, the eventual game winner.

Henrik got the puck to Hansen who streaked down the left wing before feeding a wide open Grabner who backhanded it into the empty net. Edmonton netminder Dwayne Roloson was helpless on the play as the bing-bang-boom power play marker was as smooth as they come.

"I've been playing with [Henrik] since the start of training camp so we've kind of got a little bit of chemistry there and Grabs and I played half a season with each other last year too," said Hansen. "There were some familiar faces out there on the ice and that makes it that much easier."

"It's great to play with these guys," added Grabner, "obviously everyone wants to play with them. Henrik can create a lot by himself so you just have to be ready to get the puck and I think we showed that tonight."

Hodgson, Vancouver's 2008 first round draft pick, didn't end up on the scoreboard, but after he spent the opening period getting a feel for the play, he came alive in the second.

The first Hodgson sighting came early on in the middle period when after a flourish of activity in front of Roloson, the 18-year-old found himself with the puck on his stick in front of an open net. He raised his shot just too high to celebrate his first NHL goal, close but no cigar.

Still, Hodgson logged more ice time than any other forward in the opening 20 minutes and he even found himself on the power play.

"I thought I started pretty slow, but once I got my legs going I felt a little better by the end," Hodgson said.

"[The tempo] was a little bit faster, a little bit quicker, not much time to make plays. I think it's something I can adjust to."

Coach Vigneault gave all the youngsters a good review following the game, he believes the battle between rookies for a roster spot is one that will work itself out and the young guns seem to be rising to the challenge.

"The kids in general played a good first game," said Vigneault. "I thought in general it was an alright performance, especially in the second and the third, I thought we picked it up a little bit in the second and third period.

Canucks newcomer Darcy Hordichuk, also making his first appearance in Vancouver colours, was brought in to add some muscle to the team, he isn't about to quit putting the puck in the net like he did to tie things up in the first period though.

Hordichuk was set up nicely by Alex Burrows and Ryan Johnson allowing him to score the first goal at GM Place this season and although he it was a memorable experience, fighting is just more this thing.

"It's a long season and pre-season's just another step to getting into the season so some of these young guys can handle some of the fights, but I'm looking forward to getting into it right off the bat here and getting my first one under my belt, now that I got my first goal," said Hordichuk, who logged 11:16 in ice time.

"It's good to get the first goal out of the way but now it's time to get the first fight here."

Canucks forward Mike Brown was the one stirring up trouble on this night as he took fighting for a spot on the team literally. Brown dropped the gloves twice with Edmonton's Adam Huxley, their first period tussle was a drab draw, but Brown got the most of Huxley in the rematch.

Brown also recorded three hits on the night as he helped the Canucks play a much more physical, low-scoring game, one that suited them perfectly, especially with the solid goaltending they received.

All-star netminder Roberto Luongo started the game for the Canucks and it didn't take him long to bring the crowd to their feet.

He faced his first shot of the game and of the season less than three minutes in and even though it's only the pre-season, the beauty of a save will likely end up on his highlight reel once the season is over.

Louie absolutely robbed Edmonton's Colin McDonald on the doorstep, the Oilers right winger had a chance to be one of the lucky few who sneaks one past Luongo, but the veteran goalie would have nothing of it. He got the glove up and did what he does best. It was a vintage Luongo save and hopefully a sign of things to come this season.

"It felt real good," said Luongo. "I felt comfortable, I was making some good reads and moving pretty good in the crease so definitely I'm happy about what happened."

Canucks backup goalie Curtis Sanford relieved Luongo of his duties with just over five minutes to play in the second period and he was equally impressive as his predecessor.

With the win Vancouver improves to 2-0 in pre-season action, they've proven they can play the high-scoring games or the tight-checking, low-scoring contests, which is a great sign.

The team now has a few days off to practice and prepare for a pair of weekend games against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks this Saturday and Sunday.

2 – Blocked shots for Ryan Johnson

– Different Canucks who found the scoresheet

  08:31– Ice time for Cody Hodgson in the first period

19 – Combined saves for Roberto Luongo and Curtis Sanford

66 – per cent face off wins for the Canucks (33-of-50)

Vancouver outshot Edmonton 30-20 so they were getting pucks at the net with regularity. Not every shot was perfectly placed, but at least the rubber was flying in the right direction.

The speed on offence was fast as players made quick passes in Edmonton's end and they were rewarded on the scoresheet because of it.

There was a bit of confusion at times, nothing got out of hand though and the players corrected themselves quite easily.

Kevin Bieksa and company dished out seven hits and Ryan Johnson got in front of two slap shots.

The Canucks didn't occupy the sin bin too much, although on two occasisions the Oilers found themselves with five-on-three advantages because of some undicisplined play.

Vancouver killed off both opportunities, their only blunder was Edmonton's first goal of the contest, but normally Luongo would have made that save.

Vancouver did well in holding their ground and forcing Edmonton to the perimiter when they were down a man throughout the contest.

The Grabner game winner was the lone highlight on the power play for the Canucks, they failed to pull the trigger on a few occasisions making the extra pass instead.
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