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What Do These Top Players Have in Common?

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
What do Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Marian Gaborik, Brian Rolston, Shawn Horcoff, Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk have in common? All left General Motors Place in the past 10 days without a goal. But really that’s nothing to be ashamed of because those proven goal scorers had plenty of company – as in 47 of the 48 other forwards on the Flames, Wild, Oilers and Avalanche.

Yes, during the Vancouver Canucks four game homestand which concluded with Sunday’s 4-1 triumph over the Calgary Flames exactly one opposing forward managed to score a goal. Minnesota’s Aaron Voros notched his first NHL marker when a shot deflected off his leg and past Roberto Luongo. Other than that, the Canucks held their opponents’ forwards at bay and if that trend continues then the Canucks’ chances of winning increase dramatically.

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

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In fact, if you go back five games -- to Vancouver’s last road game – Owen Nolan had one of Calgary’s two goals in a 3-2 Canucks victory at the Saddledome so opposing forwards have managed just two goals in the past five Canuck contests. (Anders Eriksson, John Michael Liles, Brent Burns and Adrian Aucoin have the other goals against the Canucks in recent games).

Much of that can be attributed to the play of Luongo who has rediscovered the form he exhibited in the second half of last season. He’s stopping almost everything sent in his direction these days and is one of the main reasons the Canucks were 3-0-1 on the homestand and are 5-0-1 in their past six games overall.

  But Luongo alone can’t prevent some of the best goal scorers in the game from finding the back of the net. And the Canuck netminder has received plenty of support in recent outings particularly from the likes of Willie Mitchell and Alex Edler on defense and the new shutdown sensations – Ryan Kesler, Taylor Pyatt and Brad Isbister – up front.

The Kesler line has drawn the assignment of keeping the likes of Sakic, Gaborik, Horcoff and Iginla in check. And forecheck, backcheck and earn their paycheques is exactly what that trio has done. That quartet of highly-skilled visitors combined for just one assist against the Canucks during the four-game run at GM Place. What’s more is that those four registered a total of nine shots and three of the players left town -1 on the night while the other was even.

At the same time, during the homestand, Kesler and his big bookends teamed up to score twice and, as a line, added five assists, were a combined +5 and managed 32 shots in the four games. Twice members of that unit led to the opening goal of the hockey game (Pyatt and Isbister setting up Henrik Sedin for his first of two in the 2-1 overtime win against Colorado and Pyatt snapping home the opening goal which opened the Canuck floodgates in that 6-2 romp over Minnesota).

It’s one thing for those players to embrace their roles as shadows and checking forwards and carry it out as drawn up on the chalk board. It’s another altogether when they go up against the best the other team has to offer and not only shut them down but contribute offensively themselves. And that’s exactly what the Canucks are getting right now from Kesler, Pyatt and Isbister.

That trio has also allowed the Canucks’ other lines to draw more favourable match-ups one of the reasons Markus Naslund and the Sedins have been able to find their offensive groove in recent outings. The challenge now, as the Canucks embark on a three game road trip, will be for Alain Vigneault to find a way to get his checking line out at the right times without having the benefit of last change.

The Canucks won’t go the rest of the season holding opposing forwards off the scoresheet. That simply won’t happen the way it has in recent games. But with hard work and a commitment to the same team-defense they displayed on the homestand, they can certainly continue to limit scoring chances.

And if they do that -- and with Roberto Luongo standing tall in the nets as the last line of defense -- the Canucks will set themselves up to continue this run they’re on which has them back in the thick of things in the Northwest Division.
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