The Shooting Game
By Jeff Paterson
Markus Naslund knows a little more about goal scoring at the National Hockey League level than I do - at last check, the Canuck captain had put 327 pucks into NHL nets (302 as a member of the Canucks) while I'm still working on my first. So I don't really expect Markus to heed the advice of this cyber-columnist. But hey, if he happens to be doing a little web surfing after practice and stumbles upon this piece, I have to say I'd like to see him shoot the puck a little more.
Once one of the most-accurate and feared gunners in the game, these days Naslund seems reluctant or, at least hesitant, to fire the puck. Again, he's the professional while my hockey career is currently on hold until I can find a rec-league team that needs an undersize centreman, but even I know this much - you can't score if you don't put the puck on the net. Early in this season it seems Naslund is thinking pass first. And while his unselfishness should perhaps be commended as he tries to get line mates Brendan Morrison and Jan Bulis going, Markus Naslund has way too much natural talent to pass up his own shooting opportunities.
A quick check of the numbers shows that through the first dozen games of the season, Naslund has taken only 34 shots on goal. At this point last season, he had launched 47. While 13 shots over 12 games may not seem like that many, it's significant because early in the season, Markus is averaging just 2.8 shots a game. A guy like Brendan Shananhan already has 10 goals and is averaging 6.5 shots per outing. What's more, Markus had 20 of his 34 shots in the first five games, but has had only 14 attempts in the past seven and has been held without goal in his past four outings.
Currently, Naslund is nowhere near the league leaders in of shots on goal - through Monday night's action, Ilya Kovalchuk has taken 67 shots while Alexander Ovechkin has launched 65. Naslund ranks 49th among NHL'ers in the shots on goal department and perhaps that shouldn't come as a huge surprise given the Canucks renewed commitment to team defence and the fact they're not consumed with generating offence they way they were in the past. But it is a little surprising, to me anyway, that Markus Naslund ranks fifth on his own team in shot attempts behind Henrik Sedin (38), Mattias Ohlund (37), Sami Salo and Daniel Sedin (both with 35).
(Actually I'm not sure if the bigger surprise is that Markus is fifth on the team or that Henrik leads the club in that department - I mean Henrik's not supposed to be the shooter in his family, let alone on this hockey club. Henrik's first instinct on a penalty shot would likely be to take the puck to the corner and then look for Daniel behind the net.)
The best part of all of this for the Canucks is that they aren't relying on Markus Naslund to score the way they have at times in the past and the way many people figured they would if they were going to have success this season. They're winning hockey games and getting offence from alternative sources and the captain is contributing in ways other than putting pucks in the net. This column isn't to suggest that Markus' lack of shots is hurting the hockey club in any way.
It's just that for so many years, Canucks fans have been treated to the sight of #19 racing down the wing or walking off the side boards and firing a laser through traffic and picking whatever spot he felt like picking in the opposition net. Markus Naslund has always made the remarkably tough task of scoring goals at this level look so easy.
But look at the goals he's scored so far this season - off his noggin in Detroit, off a rebound in Colorado, off a scramble against San Jose, in tight in Edmonton and with a desperation slap shot in the final minute in St. Louis.
Where, oh where, has that wrist shot gone? Where, oh where, can it be? What has happened to Markus the Marksman, the Swedish Sniper, the Ornskoldvik Outlaw, the Notorious N-A-Z?
It's hard to believe that Markus Naslund's best weapon has been silenced forever. He may have a 327 goal lead on me in terms of our career totals -- but this year, he's only ahead by five.
And he won't widen that gap if he doesn't start shooting the puck.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org