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Sharp Shooters

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

By Jeff Paterson

For most of this season, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault has found himself searching - searching for the right line combinations, searching for offensive consistency, searching for something that will help him tell Daniel and Henrik apart and searching for a pen so that he can scribble Roberto Luongo's name in as his starting goalie every night.

But after Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Columbus and the 4-3 setback in Buffalo prior to the All-Star break, Vigneault now finds himself with a new search on his hands. The Canucks coach simply has to find a couple of shooters he can count on when games go beyond overtime.

The Canucks have now gone to shootouts to settle six of their first 51 games this season. At that rate, it's safe to assume there'll be a few more to come this year and actually with games tightening up down the stretch perhaps the Canucks should expect to go to the shootout anywhere from six to eight more times this season. That's six or eight points that will be there for the taking and remember that last year the Canucks missed the playoffs by just three points.

The bottom line in all of this is that while the Canucks are 3-3 in their six shootouts this year and have scored on 10 of their 26 attempts (38.5%), they've lost their last two trips to the one on one competition and Brendan Morrison is the only player to score a goal (and he's done it both times).

When it was announced last week that Ryan Kesler was gone for - at the very least -- the rest of the regular season, most observers figured his absence would be felt most while the Canucks were shorthanded. But it's clear and becoming clearer that the Canucks are going to miss that leg kick of his that worked in shootouts earlier in the month against Dallas and Florida.

Right now, the Canucks pin their shootout hopes on Brendan Morrison and Roberto Luongo. Morrison has become a pistol scoring on five of his six attempts this season. But if only one guy is scoring with any regularity, then even a goalie as good as Roberto Luongo's going to have trouble bailing his team out on a regular basis.

Alain Vigneault needs to know that he has more than one go-to-guy once overtime ends. For whatever reason, the Canucks coach has used Markus Naslund in the lead-off spot and it's just not working. After Tuesday's missed attempt against Columbus, Naslund is now 2 for 6 this season and now four for 13 in his shootout career. It may be time for the captain, who was once money on breakaways and penalty shots, to become a spectator when the shootout rolls around. He had a chance to win the game with his opportunity in Buffalo and didn't convert and Tuesday failed to give his team the edge by going first and firing wide of the net.

But it's not just Naslund. The Sedins have struggled in the shootout as well - Daniel is 0 for 4 this year (1 for 7 lifetime) and as a result hasn't been among the chosen players in the two most recent outings and Henrik failed in his lone attempt this season.

After those players, the responsibility of trying to win games has fallen on the likes of Josh Green (1/3) and the collection of Taylor Pyatt, Jan Bulis, and Kevin Bieksa who all failed to score on their lone attempts.

Do the math - Morrison's five goals and Naslund and Kesler each with two account for nine of the Canucks 10 shootout goals this year. The rest of the crew is an unsightly one for 11. Kesler's no longer an option and it looks like Naslund's confidence has gone missing, leaving the coach very few options he can count on once a game gets beyond overtime.

Alain Vigneault's been a guy who's played his hunches much of the season throwing line combinations together based on who's holding the hot hand. Although he failed in his one chance earlier in the season, Taylor Pyatt's looked like a bonafide sniper on recent breakaway goals against Toronto and San Jose, so it may be time to give the big guy another chance. And what about Trevor Linden who has a bread-and-butter backhand move that's worked for him throughout his career. And really, would it hurt to give nine-goal men Sami Salo or Mattias Ohlund a chance?

Alain Vigneault has to find some guys he can count on and he needs them to make themselves known here in a hurry. It's too tight in the Northwest Division to allow any points to slip away. The time for someone, anyone to step up is now.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at
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