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Slow start costs Canucks

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Getting off to a good start during a road game is almost as important as suiting up for the contest to begin with.

The Vancouver Canucks looked ready to go against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, but their play in the opening period didn't support that and it cost them in the end.

Buffalo handed Vancouver its second loss of the season, a 5-2 defeat that had the bounces going the Sabres' way early.

Just 1:10 into the first period, defenceman Willie Mitchell accidently shot the puck over the glass while trying to clear it out of the Vancouver zone. No harm, no foul it was not, Mitchell took a seat in the penalty box for his gaffe and the Sabres immediately attacked.

Mitchell was just getting comfortable when Jaroslav Spacek put Buffalo ahead 1-0, he scored on Curtis Sanford, who was making his first start in net since January 29, just six seconds into the power play on Buffalo's first shot of the game to swing the momentum early.

Lesson learned, the Sabres seem to be potent on the power play, stay out of the box and the Canucks could start their comeback.

Sounds good in theory, but in the trenches it was war and Darcy Hordichuk took on Andrew Peters in a slugfest 1:42 after the game's opening goal. Both players were dealt five for fighting and Vancouver looked to use the four-on-four play to even things up.

A Taylor Pyatt hooking call ended that thought exactly two minutes later to give Buffalo a four-on-three advantage. They didn't score, but the Sabres continued to knock on Sanford's door time and time again.

Killing off Pyatt's penalty was important for the Canucks as it gave them a quick jolt of confidence, too bad that was wiped out when Shane O'Brien was assessed a four-minute roughing penalty with just over 12 minutes to play in the period. He needed in on Vancouver's march to the penalty box and the Sabres used that opportunity to thrust another dagger into the side of the Canucks.

This time is was Clarke MacArthur scoring and although that goal gave Buffalo a two-goal cushion, it was felt more in the swing of play than on the scoresheet for Vancouver.

The Canucks simply couldn't keep up with the Sabres who were able to score again before the end of the period with Ales Kotalik netting the eventual game-winning goal.

Vancouver had given the Eastern Conference's lone undefeated team a three-goal lead after the first period, which just can't happen, according to coach Alain Vigneault.

"Anytime you spot a team that's only given up three goals in three games, a three goal lead right off the bat, you're obivously not giving yourself a chance to win," Vigneault said.

"Giving them eight minutes in power plays in the first 12 minutes gives them momentum, it's unfortunate because I thought our guys had a lot of jump right off the bat. Then we took an unlucky penalty where Willie shot the puck over the boards and they scored on their first shot and we just seemed to not be able to respond in the first period."

It was a tough start for the visiting team, but take away the opening twenty minutes and the Canucks didn't actually play all that bad.

Vancouver scored twice in the final two periods with Ryan Kesler collecting his third goal of the season early in the second and Steve Bernier getting his second of the year five minutes into the third, and they also outshot the Sabres 19-17 in the final forty minutes.

They looked gruesome on their lone power play opportunity of the first, yet generated three or four quality chances to score with the man advantage in the second and third.

Things gradually got better for the Canucks against the Sabres, Buffalo was just the hungrier team and thanks to their great start to the game, they were able to get their fourth W of the season with relative ease.

"We knew they would be a tired team coming in here, so we wanted to be sharp early," said Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller, who made 23 saves on the night to Sanford's 26.

"We all know that they can play better," Vigneault gauged, "we still have two games remaining on this road trip and they're excellent players. The last couple of games they've been maybe average for the standards that they've used for us in the past, so hopefully they'll get ready for Chicago and play well."

Buffalo remains undefeated, while Vancouver is still undefeated when getting out to a better start and opening the scoring. The Canucks are 3-0-0 when they score first, so that will clearly be their focus heading into Sunday night's game against the Blackhawks.

1 – Goal for former Sabre Steve Bernier against his old team

2 – Road games remaining for Vancouver on this six game trip

– Wins for the Canucks when they score the game's opening goal

10 – Face off wins for Ryan Kesler on 14 draws (71%)

25 – Shots on net for Vancouver

They didn't generate much in the first period as the Sabres were the sharper team to start the game, but the Canucks slowly got the ball rolling finishing with a pair of goals. They fired 19 shots at Ryan Miller in the final two periods, so at least they were getting pucks on net. 

Willie Mitchell's early blunder hurt the Canucks and they were unable to recover. Buffalo's fourt and fifth goals came partially because the defence was pinching trying to help the offence find the back of the net, so playing from behind was Vancouver's biggest fault on the night.

If it's possible to be at rock bottom on special teams already, the Canucks are there.

Vancouver was 0-for-3 on the night on the power play, they're now 2-for-25 this season (8%).

The Canucks also allowed two power play goals against the Sabres, they've now given up six goals on 14 chances in their last three games and are 21-for-27 at killing penalties overall (77.8%)
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