The Familiar and the New

Thursday, 01.03.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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The Familiar and the New

MAR.01.07

RETURN TO THE GARAGE

After being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the sixth round of the 1995 draft, Brent Sopel played six seasons with Vancouver before being traded to the Islanders in August 2005.

Sopel is once again wearing the orca crest on his chest after a deal made Monday.

He played in his first game back as a Canuck Tuesday in St. Louis but will re-enter GM Place tonight against Phoenix. Vancouver fans at the game will get to reminisce when they see Brent Sopel patrolling the blueline with Mattias Ohlund.

"I'm excited to be back and at least some are [excited I'm back]," he says after the morning skate. "I'm sure there are some out there doubting the move but it's my job here to prove them wrong."

True a few things have changed since he's been gone - he now wears the number four, a new voice yells from behind the bench, and of course his team-mates - but there are still those familiars that make the adjustment, less of an adjustment.

"It makes it a little bit easier, I know half the guys, the staff, and everybody makes it a little bit easier coming to a fairly familiar town."

Sopel played 44 games in LA this year under former Canuck head coach, Marc Crawford, who he's no stranger to but who's this other guy in the suit during games and running practices?

Alain Vigneault's coaching style is known to be much different than Crawford's but Sopel's a professional, he's already handling the change and seems to be doing it with ease.

"It's a little bit of an adjustment but with the one game under my belt and the skate this morning, I've got a good feel of what's going on. A lot of it is just playing by instinct and reading off everybody and I can do that."

Changing environments from LA to Vancouver, obviously it's different. From sunny California to the snow in March Canada will take some getting used to but Sopel's not worried about a little cold weather.

He's excited to be back and the smile on his face while being bombarded with media show it.

"Being in the position [in Vancouver], hockey's number one and playoffs are just around the corner - the town buzzes at all times. Being in LA, there's no talk about hockey anywhere to be found. It's all about surfing or what star you can see so I'm definitely excited to be here."

"From playing in LA all year, where you don't hear the crowd, it's a pin drop, you hear it or a star walks in and that's it. I'm very excited to be out there tonight."

Let's all give him a loud welcome back tonight on his return in first home game in Vancouver.


GETTING IN THE KNOW

The Canucks acquired center Bryan Smolinski on the eve of this year's trade deadline. Smolinski, who's played 62 games this season in Chicago, is happy to return North of the border.

"It's always nice to come back to Canada and play," said Smolinski. "I had a taste of it in Ottawa and to have it here and how the fans support the team so much, it's going to be a great feeling out there for sure."

He played three seasons with Ottawa prior to dawning the Blackhawks uniform.

Smolinski was traded to Chicago in the summer so going into a new dressing room and a new team doesn't faze him. He's taking it like a pro and seems very at ease in the Canucks dressing room after the morning skate.

"Just like everything [I'm coming into Vancouver] with an open mind. It's like getting 23 new friends and they're happy to have you. If I can bring some chemistry and just do my job then things will work out."

That's chemistry he's hoping to find in time for tonight's game when the Coyotes visit GM Place.

Tuesday in St. Louis saw him skating on a line with Markus Naslund, who's seen 11 different linemates, and Jan Bulis.

"I know that Markus is a really good player and [hopefully] we can gel really quickly. I think it'll be easy because he knows he wants the puck and I'll have no problem dishing it to him and [he can] drive to the net. There's no major formula for it. It's how hard you work and how much more you want it."

In addition to playing with the Canucks captain, Smolinski will see some time on the power-play with the Sedins.

The Sedins put their acting and dancing talents on display in their commercial that debuted a few weeks back but that's not why everyone around the league is talking about them - at least that's not the only reason they're talking about them.

"They are what they are. They're dynamite players and if I can stay out of their way and give them an out. That's what a power-play is - five guys trying to beat four - and get some quality chances and get some goals, that's what we're supposed to do."

It'll take time for sure for Smolinski to get the right feel and chemistry with his new team-mates but it doesn't look like that's going to be a big problem.


DISCIPLINARY ACTION

As of Thursday morning, the Canucks are fourth in times shorthanded, just ahead of the Coyotes.

And with the league's best penalty kill, it seems they can maybe take a penalty here and there. The problem is here and there seem to be in untimely situations.

The Canucks have given up power-play goals in their last five, they gave up only three in their previous fifteen games on 62 chances. The last five games have given up six goals on 26 power-play chances, that's just under 77 percent on the penalty kill.

During their six-game win streak, their PK was at a high of 88.9 percent, now dropped slightly to 88.2. Although the numbers are not something to be upset about, taking many penalties at the wrong time will be costly.

The last few games have seen the Canucks slip in their discipline, leading to chances by the opponent that even the superior penalty kill can't stop.

"[Late penatlies have] caught up to us in a big way in the last four games," said Willie Mitchell, who leads the team in blocked shots and time on ice shorthanded. "Five-on-four, it's pretty easy to kill penalties but five-on-three, six-on-three, six-on-four and that's the way teams have been scoring on us - four-on-three - those are really tough penalty kills, especially the period of time other teams have had, they've been a couple minutes each."

Two late penalties in Dallas and St. Louis hurt the Canucks chances at the two points and in the end, was still able to garner a point out of the Dallas game.

But maybe it's not all bad?

"Hopefully it's a good time for it," says Mitchell. "If we do make it to the postseason, maybe now's the time we can get ourselves in order as far as taking less penalties, which will help us and be more beneficial in the postseason."