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Special Battle of the Best

Sunday, 28.01.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks

JAN.28.07


It's a battle of the number ones tonight when the Sharks' number one ranked power-play make their second visit to GM Place to faceoff against the Canucks' first place penalty kill.

"I know our guys are looking forward to it and [San Jose's] on a roll and when you're the number one power-play at home and on the road," said assistant coach, Rick Bowness after the morning skate. "It doesn't matter where you're playing or who you're up against. I'm sure they're going to keep the same mindset coming in against us. But when you're the penalty killing against the number one power-play, that's a big challenge for us."

The Sharks' power-play is tops at home and on the road, converting 26 times with the man advantage on the road this year. They have gone 39% on the power-play in the past ten games, where they are 8-2-0.

The Canucks aren't going to let the Sharks have all the glory. The first ranked penalty killing of the Canucks have been perfect in the past five games and have only let in two power-play goals in the past 11 games.

However, the Canucks will have to maintain the perfect streak without key players, Willie Mitchell and Ryan Kesler.

"[San Jose's] got a lot of offensive players so it's going to be tough but it's a good test for our PK group," said Henrik Sedin.

Mitchell's been out since January 19, missing two games so far with a groin injury. He dressed for the game in Ottawa but eventually couldn't finish the game, further aggravating his injury.

After rushing his return to the ice a week ago, everyone's making precautions before his next game.

"He's still day-to-day," said Bowness. "He had a great skate earlier this morning before the team went on the ice. He's still not at the point where he will practice with the team."

"The good news is he is on the ice and he did have a very difficult skate this morning so we have to wait to see how he responds when he comes in tomorrow."

The Canucks found out late Thursday afternoon that Ryan Kesler will be out 12-16 weeks because of a hip surgery.

Mitchell and Kesler lead the team for ice time on the penalty kill averaging 5:14 and 3:42, respectively. Mitchell also has the most blocked shots (69) of any other Canuck, while Kesler is fifth with 40 blocked shots.

After a loss to the L.A. Kings on Friday, there is speculation that Kesler's presence on the ice may be making a bigger impact on the team than originally thought but there's one more guy to look out for on the Canucks PK.

"No doubt that the best penalty killer still has to be your goalie," says Bowness.

And although Luongo's been the star of the penalty kill, tonight may pose the biggest challenge with the Sharks' offensive threats from All-Stars Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo, and captain Patrick Marleau.

"[Luongo's] been playing great lately and with the forwards that San Jose's got we've got to play as much as we can in their end."

"They've got a lot of players that can put the puck in the net," said Luongo. "They're quick and we just have to be paying attention to details tonight and not make too many mistakes, especially in our zone."

One more key to penalty killing?

"Hopefully we'll do our best to stay out of the box," said Bowness. "When you're facing the number one power-play, you don't want to get them out there five, six, seven times like we've been doing because inevitably they're going to score. So it's important that the whole team knows that."

The Canucks penalty kill has been perfect 28 times this year, including their first meeting with the Sharks.

"I think everyone's aware when they're killing penalties and it's important to get in the lanes and block some shots and take away rebounds," said Luongo. "We did a good job last game, we just have to do the same thing tonight."
The stage is set for a battle of the special teams tonight. And although the Canucks won the battle last time around, converting once with the man advantage and stopping all six Sharks power-plays, it'll be a challenge stopping a team that's gone five straight on the road.