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Shoot it Out

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
If you can’t beat ‘em… take ‘em to the shootout and hope for the best.

That philosophy worked for the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday night as they avenged seven consecutive losses to Vancouver by knocking off the Canucks 1-0 in a shootout at General Motors Place.

Ales Hemsky’s pretty backhand goal in the third round capped off a near-perfect road game for the injury-depleted Oilers, who avoided costly penalties and limited the number of quality scoring chances Vancouver had.

But as strong a game as Edmonton played, the two points were there for the taking. Vancouver, however, simply couldn’t beat Oilers netminder Mathieu Garon, first in regulation time, then in overtime, then, surprisingly, in the shootout.

It was the first time Vancouver has been in a shootout this season. Last year, the team was 5-4 in the breakaway competition overall, 5-3 in games started by star goaltender Roberto Luongo. Dany Sabourin was between the pipes for the team’s mid-January loss to Buffalo.

Brendan Morrison, who emerged as Vancouver’s go-to-guy in the shootout a season ago, shot second and was stymied as he tried to deke the Edmonton netminder.

“I was going to go forehand, backhand, five-hole,” said Morrison, “but he made a good play. He poke-checked me.”

Vancouver’s other two shooters, Byron Ritchie and Ryan Kesler, also attempted to deke. Morrison believes the team may have benefitted by mixing up their breakaway moves.

“I don’t think we did exactly the right thing,” said Morrison. “[Garon] is out so far initially to challenge, we should’ve come in with some speed, then slowed up so we got his rhythm off, his timing off. But, I mean, everyone tried to deke. We should’ve maybe tried to keep it simple and get a couple of shots.”

Kesler, who shot third and went with his familiar fake to the backhand, says he simply lost control as he went to make his move.

“I mishandled the puck,” said Kesler. “I tried to pull it to my backhand and didn’t score.”

While Morrison and Kesler were shootout mainstays a season ago, the inclusion of Ritchie over the Sedins and Markus Naslund surprised some.

Coach Alain Vigneault explained that he’s consulted with both Luongo and backup Curtis Sanford and come up with a list of four or five players that give Vancouver the best opportunity to score in the shootout. Ritchie is on that list. The Sedins and Naslund currently are not.

Whether that list will be altered after Vancouver’s unimpressive shootout performance against Edmonton remains to be seen.

But now that Vancouver appears to have found its game, it’s fair to suggest it won’t be another 17 contests before the Canucks are involved in another shootout. The team’s tight-checking, defense-first approach likely means it will find itself playing beyond 65 minutes many more times this season.

And if Vancouver intends to make another run at the Northwest Division title, picking up bonus points in the shootout may make all the difference between raising another championship banner and hitting the golf course early.

4 – Blocked shots for Aaron Miller to lead the team.

6 – Hits for an especially feisty Matt Cooke.

28 – Minutes of ice time for Willie Mitchell, who made a heads-up play in the first period and swept a puck off the goal line to keep Edmonton off the board.

32 – Percent of the faceoffs were won by Vancouver. If you take away Ryan Kesler’s totals, that number drops to 21.

The 23 shots on goal Vancouver had through two periods is a little misleading, as the Canucks seemed determined to just throw pucks at the net early on.

None of the four lines had particularly strong nights, with the Sedins and Naslund turning in a surprisingly quiet performance.

The defense was, once again, impressive. Mitchell, in particular, was very good and played with the passion generally reserved for games in May and June.

Vancouver held Edmonton to just 19 shots, most of which Roberto Luongo handled with ease.

The powerplay was quiet, getting only two opportunities throughout the game and failing to score.

The penalty kill was 4-for-4, though it can thank Luongo for that, as the Vancouver goaltender’s spectacular glove save on a Dick Tarnstrom slapshot early in the third kept the Canucks level.
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