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So far, so good

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Shane O’Brien is only three games into 2009, but it’s so far, so good in regards to his New Year’s resolution.

As the NHL’s leader in penalty minutes, it shouldn’t come as a colossal bolt from the blue that O’Brien pledged to stay out of the sin bin a little more this year.

“No more penalties, that’s my New Year’s resolution; I pray every night to God that I don’t take any more penalties,” said O’Brien, who is two-for-two so far as he avoided the penalty box in Vancouver’s last pair of outings.

He was just joking around when he revealed the latter during a resent Canucks podcast, yet O’Brien is quite serious about changing his ways in the second half of the season.

It’s easy to understand why when taking a look at OB’s career numbers. In his first two full seasons in the NHL, with Anaheim and then Tampa Bay, O’Brien racked up 140 and 154 penalty minutes as he became known for his rough play.

O’Brien’s physical nature was part of the reason the Canucks acquired the 25-year-old from the Lightning on Oct. 6, but no one expected him to take penalties at the rate he has since arriving in Vancouver.

The 2008-09 season isn’t even half way through and already the product of Port Hope, Ont., has 118 PIMs – that’s almost two entire games spent awkwardly chatting it up with the penalty box attendants.

Did I have the courage to look Vancouver’s meanest enforcer in the eyes and ask him if he feels he’s taking too many penalties? Just barely.

“Yeah, I am,” confessed O’Brien. “I’m not going to lie though, I think they watch me closer than they watch let’s say Henrik and Danny or Welly or anyone really. I’ve got a reputation and I’ve brought that on myself so now I’ve got to find a way to still play my game but within the rules.”

O’Brien’s march to the box leads the league through 42 games and whether his influence is to blame or not, Vancouver is now the most penalized team in the NHL. The Canucks play shorthanded for an average of 19.2 minutes per game.

Of Vancouver’s 289 penalties, 234 have been minors (including nine bench minors), majors account for 47, with six misconducts and two game misconducts.

Foolish penalties, bad calls and penalties that result from playing hard, Vancouver has had them all and each Canuck is to blame. Well, except Kyle Wellwood, he hasn’t sat for two or less since April 11, 2006 when he was called for holding the stick.

“We’ve had quite a few fights, that puts us up there in penalty minutes, guys finish their checks consistently and obviously with the new rules they watch you a little bit closer so that leads to a few,” assessed O’Brien.

The Canucks are a much more aggressive, physical team this season and while fans are quick to applaud that in victory, upon defeat penalties are an easy scapegoat and O’Brien is more often than not the man with his hand in the cookie jar.

He’s becoming increasingly comfortable with that, although he’s the first to admit and he and his teammates needs to smarten up.

“Coming down and getting into the second half here we’ve really got to tighten it up, me more than anyone. You want to play physical, but there’s a fine line out there and some nights were are at it, other nights we cross it and coming down the stretch we’ve got to make sure there are less nights that we aren’t crossing it.

“I’m sure some of the fans are sick of me taking penalties, but I’m just trying to play physical out there and make it tough for people to get to our net and tough from the hash marks down. But like I said you’ve got to not cross the line because you can still play physical within the rules.”

Of course, there is some good that comes with spending a lot of time in the box. For starters, it gives Vancouver’s penalty killers a lot of work and the Canucks have moved their way up to 14th overall in the PK department.

Oddly enough, when the Canucks take six or more penalties in a game, the team sports an impressive 9-4-0 record, when accumulating five or less, Vancouver is 12-11-5.

“That makes no sense to me, but now I’ve got something to use against the coaches,” laughed O’Brien.

“I don’t really know about that, maybe it’s just one of those things were our PK is better when it’s out there more. That’s dangerous though because when you’re doing that you’re taking guys like Wellwood and Bernier and Demitra, guys that need to get out there offensively to create stuff, you’re not giving them the ice time they deserve and want.

“I don’t know about that record, it’s kind of weird, we’ve got to switch it around down the stretch here.”

That’ll be easier said than done for the Canucks and especially O’Brien, but as far as penalties are concerned, Vancouver has nowhere to go but up.

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8th - Round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2003 NHL draft (250th overall)

  41 - Games played for O'Brien this year, that's one more than Vancouver as he suited up for T-Bay prior to being traded

118 - Penalty minutes for OB so far, his NHL career high is 154

286 - Penalties for Vancouver this season

448 - Career PIMS for O'Brien in 198 games played

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