Beating the Blues
OCT.20.06It was more than just a dollar buried at centre ice.
Last year it was like St. Louis emptied the entire piggy bank under every face-off dot, goal post, and moderate discolouration on the ice. In short, they had some serious voodoo going against Vancouver.
The lowly Blues, who finished dead-last in the NHL with 57 points, beat the Canucks all four times the teams met, and out scored them 16-4.
"I think we're all aware of it - at least the guys that were here," said Markus Naslund. "And we've talked about it to the new guys as well so they know."
"We took them lightly last year and it cost us the season."
The Canucks missed the playoffs by three points. Even a split against a low-rent St.Louis team would've slid the Canucks into the playoff berth occupied by the Oilers - and everyone knows where that one led.
"We got away from playing our system last year," said Naslund. "We wanted to do it individually and it worked in their favour. They played a hard-working game and didn't do anything fancy. They got rebounds and fought for their chances."
This is a different Canuck team this season, but if they're going to make amends, they'll do it by stealing a page or two from the St. Louis play book.
The Canucks have scored 16 goals through seven games - half of which have come from either Naslund or line mate Daniel Sedin. You couldn't poke a reporter with an imaginary stick Wednesday at the Savvis Center without hearing about it.
"I think we want more offence - there's no doubt about that," said Naslund. "But I also know guys are working hard and hopefully pucks are going to start bouncing our way and it will be a different feeling for those guys that are squeezing the sticks right now."
And those pucks will start bouncing on the good side of the shiny red posts any time now if work is what it takes. The Canucks are 3-3-1 simply because they've been more diligent about the spadework than their opponent.
As promised the Canucks have been diligent in all three zones. It's paid off in two of them as Vancouver has given up an average of under 2.4 goals per game after seven contests.
Having Roberto Luongo guarding the crease certainly helps, but the defence has done a terrific job of limiting chances.
The Oilers boasted the fifth-ranked penalty kill heading into a two-game set with the Canucks. They were shut out both times going 0-for-14.
Edmonton scored a total of three goals against the Canucks. Heading in they were averaging 3.5 per game.
Where the Canucks' work hasn't paid off, is the offensive zone.
"Obvioulsy it's a concern," said Alain Vigneault. "We haven't scored up to our potential."
"Those are areas we're discussing with our players, hopefully through practice and video our guys will be a little more confidence and we'll get the goals we need to win games."
"Maybe by keeping things more simple by getting pucks to the net, driving the net, and going for rebounds; I think all those things will help out."
"They just need one good game. Once they have that, they'll be alright."
Vigneault's believes the secret to that 'one good game' lies in chemistry.
He's stirred the bottom three lines pretty heavily through seven games this season, and Wednesday he conjured a new trio playing Jan Bulis and Matt Cooke on the wings between Marc Chouinard - at least for the time being.
"I wouldn't put too much stock in what you saw at practice today," warned Vigneault. "I just tried a few things. We're going to sleep on it and see what we come up with tomorrow."
Brendan Morrison skated between Taylor Pyatt and Ryan Kesler, while Josh Green anchored Trevor Linden and Alex Burrows. It's a good bet Tommi Santala will sit.
"It's still a process right now and we still haven't found guys that are clicking together aside from The Twins and Nazzy."
With Willie Mitchell what you see is what you get.
Jacques Lemaire never hesitated to throw Mitchell out in the dying seconds of a game. And to that guy the phrase, 'caution to the wind' is akin to cursing mom. Mitchell is as sure as sure gets when it comes to defence.
His plus-four and is second only to Daniel Sedin, who's been on the ice for half the goals the Canucks have scored this season.
Even more important, he leads the team in shorthanded minutes, and is one of the main reasons the Canucks skunked the Oiler power play back-to-back.
"I think he does two great things," said Vigneault. "He anticipates so well. He thinks where that pucks going to go and stops a lot of plays, and he blocks shots. You have to able to block shots on the penalty kill. That takes courage and that's what he brings."
The Canucks' average of 29.3 shots per game ranks them 20th in the league. The coaching staff wants more.
"Teams play so compact now," said Vigneault. "There are five guys around the net and there's no space or time. As soon as you get separation, you have to get pucks to the net."
The team spent a good part of Wednesday's practice getting pucks off quicker, and from different spots on the ice.
"We're trying to get guy to shoot outside their comfort zone," Vigneault said. "Everybody is always coming in, in, in near through the slot. You have to be able to shoot outside the slot, just like [Ethan] Moreau did to us the other night."
SENTINMENTAL IN ST. LOO
Vigneault played 42 games for the Blues between 1981 and 1983. He scored two goals and seven points.
When asked about his days as a Blue, Vigneault didn't hesitate.
"I played 42 of the best games you'll ever see."
Always poking with the needles, Team 1040's John Shorthouse cracked up the post-practice scrum saying he was scanning the rafters during practice, but couldn't find Vigneault's number anywhere.
"It's not there," said Vigneault, "so was I."
"Next time we're in I think they're take care of it."