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Shooting for the Extra Point

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
Shootout. Shoot-ouch.

For a month there, it looked like the Canucks had solved their shootout issues rattling off three straight victories in the super skills competition over Phoenix, the Islanders and St. Louis.

Those wins provided three huge bonus points in the standings and, more importantly, gave Canuck fans hope that the team had found the confidence it was lacking earlier in the season when it came to prevailing in the one-on-one showdowns.

But Tuesday’s down in Dallas, the Canucks got shot down in another shootout falling 3-2 to the Stars. With the loss the Canucks watched another Western Conference opponent snag the bonus point up for grabs as Vancouver fell to 4-7 in shootouts this season.

Now, no one is going to quibble with the overall effort of the players given the trying circumstances the hockey club is going through without virtually all of its big-league defensemen. And at the end of the year, the single point the Canucks scooped up in the Lone Star State may prove to be a big one.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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However, a thorough analysis of the Canucks’ performance in shootouts this season reveals a few troubling trends:

After Jussi Jokinen and Markus Naslund traded goals to open Tuesday’s shootout, and Roberto Luongo holding up his end of the bargain, the Canucks had three chances to end game and skate away with victory. Trevor Linden, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler were all in position to sink the Stars with shootout goals. Linden hit the post, Daniel was denied while Kesler scooped his effort over the net. How they missed isn’t really the issue -- but the bottom line is the Canucks were unable to get the one goal they needed when they needed it.

Canuck shooters are now 0 for 5 this season when put in a walk-off (or perhaps skate-off is more appropriate) situation in shootouts. Five times the Canucks have had a chance to win the thing just by putting the puck in the net and they’ve been unable to find the mark.

The Canucks have yet to have one of those ‘everybody off the bench to mob the winning scorer’ moments in a shootout this season -- you know, the ones that can do a world of good for individual and team confidence. All four of their shootout wins have occurred when Luongo has made a save to seal the victory – not that there’s anything wrong with those kinds of wins, either.

Thirty-two times this season, Canuck players have been in position to give their team the lead at some point in a shootout and put the pressure squarely on the other side. Only seven times have the Canucks been able to grab the lead in that situation. That means 25 times, the Canucks have watched the momentum shift the other way.

And on nine occasions, Canuck players have had the opportunity to tie a shootout and have only managed three such goals (including Naslund on Tuesday who knotted the affair at 1-1).

 Add it all up and it’s not exactly what the team needs right now. Canuck shooters are 10 for 46 in shootout attempts this season.

Unfortunately, they are just two for their last 16 efforts in the past four shootouts. What’s interesting about those two goals is that they’ve come off the sticks of Daniel Sedin (vs St. Louis on January 23rd) and Markus Naslund (in Dallas on Tuesday) – the team’s top two marksmen, yet two guys who haven’t had much career success in shootouts.

All season Alain Vigneault has been searching for go-to-guys he can lean on to settle hockey games after overtime. Naslund looked like the captain of old finding a narrow opening on Marty Turco and snapping it home while Daniel used a number of moves deking Manny Legace to the ice and then reaching back to stuff the puck home.

With the stretch drive in full-swing and points so valuable, it’s probably time to stick with the big guns in shootouts and give Ryan Kesler (1 for 9 on the year) and Taylor Pyatt (1 for 8) – and both scoreless in their last five attempts – the night off.

The Canucks will certainly take the single points they earned in shootout losses in Florida and Dallas in their last two games.

But as has been the case on many nights this season, the Canucks have to find a way to score one more goal whether it’s in regulation time – or certainly whenever they get into shootouts.

It’s hard to look at the standings without thinking about the difference a goal here and a goal there would make. If they’d been able to score a few more goals along the way the Canucks would be peering down from the top of the pile in the remarkably tough Western Conference. Instead, they find themselves looking up and knowing they’ve got some work to do.
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