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The Blueline Group

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks


They're like dependable roommate who always writes down messages, returns the movies, and puts a new bag in the garbage can - they don't get the credit they deserve.

There's always something more exciting to talk about.

Through 12 games the ever-popular 'secondary scoring' and 'goaltending' topics have been rollicking in the bright lights. Heck, even the odd-ball 'penalty kill' that's used to scrounging for scraps on slowest hockey days is soaked with ink.

How about some attention for the blueline boys? With five victories by a single goal already in the books, it's high time the defence got some attention.

"The guys are doing a great job," said Roberto Luongo, whose .926 save percentage is a testament to their work.

"It's a totally different world [than Florida]. We're cutting the scoring chances down by half in every game. For me it's much easier to work knowing that I only have to face 10 scoring chances a game as opposed to 20."

The Canucks are ranked 21st in scoring, yet have seven wins hanging from their belts. If it weren't for a 2.08 goals-against average, the Canucks could be looking up at the cellar door Northwest Division.

"It's different than last year obviously," said Sami Salo. "I think with the acquisitions that we made, we might be even better than we were last year."

"As a team, we're paying more attention to detail, especially in our own end. Last season, at the end there, we weren't that sharp in our own end and that was one of the main reasons we missed the playoffs."

Free-agent signing Willie Mitchell's been a keystone on the penalty kill and was gobbling up 22 minutes per game before suffering a concussion Oct. 21st in Nashville.

He's certainly helped, but in the past three games the Canucks have surrendered just four goals.

Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo have been their steady all-star selves, but the depth is a big reason the defence has chopped the goals-against.

"I think we have a really good mix of veterans and young guys," said Rory Fitzpatrick, a nine-year vet who moved over from Buffalo this summer. "Everybody's played well and contributed and done their part. It's not just one or two guys, I think it's the whole six guys who have gone out and played their part."

Lukas Krajicek and Kevin Bieksa both average over 20 minutes and are a combined plus-five.

"I didn't know Lukas coming in here,"said Alain Vigneault. "He's had an opportunity to get a little more ice time and he's done extremely well. I saw the poise with the puck, and I see he needs to improve his shot to become a bigger threat, but I also see a lot of good things that he does."

"He's playing power play, killing penalties, blocking shots, I never expect him to crush anybody along the boards, but I don't expect him to get beaten one-on-one and he doesn't. He's got a good stick and he knows where to put it."

For a guy who played limited minutes in his first full NHL season just a year ago, Krajicek's been shockingly effective in Mitchell's absence.

Bieksa spun a mid-season call up into a 39-game streak last season and was expected to shoulder some of the load this year with the loss of Bryan Allen and Ed Jovanovski.

"I knew Kevin very well and it was just a matter of getting him to play with urgency all the time," said Vigneault, who coached Bieksa in Manitoba. "He's done a very good job this year."

Only Salo has more points than Bieksa's five, and his plus-three rating puts him one back of the Fin for best on the blueline.

In all, it's unfolding pretty well.

"We [the coaching staff] were all hoping that it would all work out," said Vigneault. "That's what we have is hope. We see these guys have potential, but to tell you I was sure it was going to work out, wouldn't be telling the truth."

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