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Playing for Percentages

Wednesday, 13.02.2008 / 7:47 PM / Features
By Jeff Paterson
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Playing for Percentages
With 25 games to go and a playoff berth hanging in the balance, the Vancouver Canucks know that special teams will play a huge role in determining whether they’re part of the Western Conference post-season picture this season.

To that end, the Canucks have to feel good about a power play that is heating up as the push for the playoffs escalates.

Last Sunday’s win over Chicago was the first time in six games that the hockey club was unable to cash in on the power play (although they did score with the man-advantage when Markus Naslund tied the game with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker).

In the five games so far in the month of February, the Canucks power play has gone five for 16 (31.3%) and with a goal late in a 4-3 loss in Tampa Bay on January 31st, the power play is six for its last 17 opportunities (35.3%) – nearly double its 18.2% conversion rate over the course of the season.

INSIDE THE BOX
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

E-mail him at jeff.paterson@team1040.ca
“Throughout the year, there are going to be ups and downs. You can’t really look at a five or six game stretch, you have to look at the whole season. But we’ve been moving the puck better lately and we’ve been taking the shots we’re supposed to be taking and not forcing shots,” says Henrik Sedin, who along with brother Daniel, has been on the ice for the last 10 power play goals the Canucks have scored dating back a Jason Jaffray goal with the man-advantage in a 3-0 win over the New York Rangers on January 3rd.

One of the reasons the twins don’t have to force shots these days is because Sami Salo has hit his offensive stride after overcoming injuries in the first half of the season and struggling to find his form of a year ago.

The Finnish defenseman is finally using his heavy shot as a weapon giving the Canucks a few new looks when operating on the power play.Since returning from a groin injury after the All-Star break, Salo has a goal and four helpers during a four-game point streak.

His team-mates may fear standing their ground in front when Salo is teeing up pucks from the point. But they all know that big blast is necessary if the Canucks are going to make the most of their man-advantage opportunities.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything really different right now it’s just a matter of getting the rebounds and being in the right spots. It’s a little bit lucky, but Sami’s starting to shoot it really well so it’s great to have him back there,” says Daniel who leads the Canucks with 12 power play goals on the season including two this month. “Other teams need to take him away and that opens things up down low for the forwards, so it’s good.”

While the win total hasn’t been where the hockey club would like in recent weeks, Alain Vigneault is imploring his players to stick with the process. The Canucks coach knows that if his guys continue to do many of the things they’re doing, they’ll be rewarded. And working both hard – and smart – when on the power play is one of the things Vigneault figures will lead the Canucks to the post-season.

“I think we’re shooting the puck a little bit more and getting more people in front. Markus (Naslund), right now, is positioning himself in front instead of on the half wall and he’s been getting some tips and some second opportunities,” says the coach. “That’s where the goals are scored now. It’s very tough to beat goalies on the initial shot so you have to want to go to those tough areas. On the power play, our guys are doing a better job of getting shots through and getting on those second chances.”

The six power play goals the Canucks have scored in the past six games equals their output with the man-advantage in the 12 games prior to that. So the power play looks to be heating up at precisely the right time of the season.

The club has won two of its last three games and picked up points in four of its last five and the power play has had a sizeable role helping the Canucks overcome the rash of recent injuries to stay in the playoff hunt.

The Canucks were four for 13 (30.8%) on the power play in their first two meetings of the year with the Minnesota Wild and, not surprisingly, they won both of those outings. In their last two games against Minnesota, however, the Canucks have gone 0/5 and as a result have failed to win either of those contests.

The power play has to remain hot as the Canucks face the Wild for the fifth of eight regular season meetings on Thursday night at General Motors Place. The results of games down the stretch – and ultimately a playoff berth – are riding on it.