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Canucks win in Sundin's debut

by John Kreiser
A few thoughts as we wish Joe Sakic a speedy recovery -- and hope we haven't seen the last of the future Hall of Famer:

Report card
-- No shots on goal in 15:02 of ice time. No penalties. One hit. A 50-percent performance (9-for-18) on faceoffs.

Not an outstanding night for most players. But for Mats Sundin, it was a good starting point.

Sundin wasn't a big factor in his Vancouver debut as the line of Steve Bernier, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler did most of the damage in the Canucks' 4-2 win at Edmonton. But his new coach and teammates were more than satisfied.

"I thought he got better as the game went on," coach Alain Vigneault said. "It's a step in the right direction. I talked to him a little bit in the third (period) on the bench, as the game was on the line, about how he felt. He felt fine, so I gave him a little more ice time."

Sundin played only 3:08 in the first period, largely because the Canucks spent six minutes killing penalties. He spent most of the night with linemates Kyle Wellwood and Mason Raymond, and his ice time picked up in the final 40 minutes.

"For a guy who really just had two team practices with an NHL team, what we saw tonight, I think, is what we could expect," he said. "We have two more games on the weekend. As he plays a little bit more, a couple more practices, without a doubt I think he's going to become the player that he thinks he can be and what we need him to be."

Sundin, who signed with the Canucks on Dec. 16 after 13 seasons with Toronto and a half-season on the sidelines, admitted that his hands failed him at times.

"It's timing, where you come in and shoot, you jam yourself a little bit. And when you're trying to make a pass (it goes) over a stick," he said.

"It felt exactly like where you are at the start of a season, where you're trying to get it back, but the only way to get it back is to play games."

He'll make his home debut against St. Louis on Friday.

Power play found -- After leading the NHL in power-play percentage in each of the past two seasons, the Montreal Canadiens have been going through a power outage this season. The departure of Sheldon Souray to Edmonton in 2007 and Mark Streit to the Islanders last summer dropped the Canadiens' power play into the netherworld of 27th place in the 30-team League before Wednesday's visit to Madison Square Garden.

But for a quick stretch early in the third period, the magic was back. Andrei Markov broke a 2-2 tie just three second into one power play, and Robert Lang added a second goal during a 5-on-3 advantage as the Canadiens left New York with a 6-3 win against the Rangers.

The Canadiens had misfired on 20 consecutive power plays over five games before Markov, one of four Montreal All-Star starters, ripped a slap shot past Henrik Lundqvist after Tomas Plekanec won a draw following Aaron Voros' hooking penalty at 2:29.

"It's been kind of a hit and miss -- more miss -- the last four or five games," Lang said of the power play.

Despite a rash of injuries, the Canadiens have compensated for their power-play struggles by tightening up defensively.

"We've been able to get points and wins since the start of the year without having a really good power play," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "We've worked on being a better defensive team, and that's helped us a lot."

Lang followed his power-play goal with a spectacular even-strength tally -- he left Rangers defenseman Mark Staal grasping at air before roofing a shot on Lundqvist -- and added a shorthanded empty-netter for his second career hat trick and first since Nov. 12, 2003, when he played for Washington.

"If I keep on this pace I probably won't score another one, so I will enjoy this one," Lang said.

Will Joe go? -- After missing much of 2007-08 with a sports hernia that required surgery, Joe Sakic thought long and hard last summer before deciding to come back for another season. With the Olympics scheduled for Vancouver next winter, the 39-year-old Buranby, B.C., native figures to have a similar debate with himself again this summer after undergoing surgery for a herniated disc.

The Colorado Avalanche announced Wednesday that their captain and all-time scoring leader had surgery for the back problem that knocked him out of action Nov. 28. He had played just 15 games before skating off after one shift of the Avs' game against the Phoenix Coyotes.

That injury was supposed to keep him out for six weeks, but a mishap with a snow blower last month left him with three broken fingers and tendon damage, necessitating surgery and an absence of more than two months.

The Avs said the back operation will keep Sakic out for at least 10 weeks -- meaning he could be back before the end of the season.

"After weeks of rehabilitation, it was determined that surgery was the safest path to a complete recovery," Avalanche team physician Andrew Parker said in a statement. "This was our best option, and the surgery went as expected."

The question now for the 39-year-old Sakic is: what happens next? He had hoped rehab, including exercises to strengthen his core muscles, would get him back on the ice. That didn't happen, so surgery was the next step.

"I understand that this was the best way for me to return to the ice," Sakic said in a statement released by the team Wednesday night. "So now my focus and goal will be to get back as soon as possible to help my teammates in the final weeks of the season."

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