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Canucks need power play, new goalie to click

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

New Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning politely shook his head when talk of a rebuild was raised by a fan during one of the many town hall-style meetings hosted by the team this summer.

Instead, after an offseason that included signing a big-name No. 1 goalie in Ryan Miller, Benning and new president of hockey operations Trevor Linden publicly targeted a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For that to take place, the Canucks are going to need these three things to happen:

1. Power play must improve -- The Canucks had the best power play in the NHL when they made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, and were fourth in the League rankings en route to a second straight Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team in 2012. But they slipped all the way to 26th at 15.2 percent last season with a power play that killed momentum more often than it created it.

Given the ineptitude of the power play, it's remarkable Vancouver stayed in the playoff mix through two-thirds of last season before collapsing down the stretch amid injuries. For a team that seems destined to struggle to score at even strength again, it's imperative the Canucks make significant strides with the man advantage.

"With a good power play you can go a long way in this League," captain Henrik Sedin said. "The power play we had last year, you are not going to be close to playoffs. We were right there until the injuries, and that was with a terrible power play. With [Radim] Vrbata coming in it is going to help us big time on the power play, and if we score 10 to 15 more goals on the power play it's going to help."

That may be asking a lot for a team that scored 39 power-play goals last season, but another 15 would have put them into the top-five in the NHL. The addition of Vrbata, who replaces Ryan Kesler as the right-shot one-timer option opposite Daniel and Henrik Sedin up front, should help, but the bigger question is who will play the points. The Canucks haven't had a good right point option to play off Henrik Sedin on the right half wall since Christian Ehrhoff left after the 2011 run to the Cup Final, and the Sedins struggled to work their usual magic in other formations last season.

Nick Bonino, who said he played the point at times on a four-forward power play in Anaheim, may be an option, even though he seems more likely to anchor a second unit.

"You always make changes to fit your personnel," new coach Willie Desjardins said. "Guys with skill like the Sedins and other players on our power play, they can run numerous systems. That's not the problem. It's just getting everyone on the same page and executing."

2. The new system has to fit -- Speaking of systems that fit the personnel, it's important Desjardins' promise to emphasize speed, skill and puck possession works with his top players.

The Canucks were a top-10 possession team under former coach John Tortorella based on metrics like Corsi, which measures possession based on shot attempts for and against, but too often it seemed like they were dumping the puck in and chasing the game rather than holding onto the puck and controlling the play. It worked for a while, but seemed to wear on the top players, who were playing more and harder minutes.

"Our possession time was great last year too," Henrik Sedin said, "but we spent a lot of energy trying to get the puck, and this year I hope we can hold onto more pucks in the neutral zone, make plays across the blue line and do the things that we are good at."

In many ways the Canucks hope to look more like the team they were under coach Alain Vigneault, who was fired after a second straight early playoff exit in 2013.

"You look at the players we brought in and you look at the roster, and I think you coach the team you have, you don't try to make them something they are not," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "So obviously we are going to be an up-tempo, skilled, puck-possession team … similar to probably a couple of years ago, but I think we are going to be gritty and we are going to battle too."

3. Goaltenders have to be great -- With goals likely to be at a premium again, especially against the California teams in the Pacific Division, the Canucks can't afford any leaks in their own end.

In addition to adjusting to a new conference, coach and system in front of him, Miller also may have to adjust to some style alterations under goaltending coach Roland Melanson, who prefers a more conservative positional approach than Miller traditionally has played. The presence of Eddie Lack, who has proven capable in spot starts and occasional stretches of prolonged play, should give Miller more time to make those adjustments than he had with the St. Louis Blues, where he finished last season. But with so little margin for error behind a team that many see as a long shot to make the playoffs, and given the market's fickle history of goaltending drama, it would be a lot easier if things start to click for Miller right away.

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