PIC OF THE GAME
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(AP) - The Vancouver Canucks are losing top defensemen, yet keep winning games.
Markus Naslund and Henrik Sedin
each had a goal and an assist, and Roberto Luongo
made 29 saves as the Canucks overcame a suspension to top defender Mattias Ohlund to beat the Calgary Flames 4-1 on Sunday night.
Willie Mitchell and Brad Isbister both scored their first goals of the season, and Daniel Sedin
added two assists as the Canucks improved to 5-0-1 since losing top-four defensemen Kevin Bieksa
and Sami Salo
to serious injuries on Nov. 1.
“Markus made a picture perfect pass through the hole and I just went down there and basically tapped it in,” said Mitchell, who didn’t get his first goal last season until 34 games in.
Vancouver had lost four of five and was three games below .500 before the injuries, which forced the Canucks to tighten up in their own zone.
"Systematically, we're much more sound, it's night and day," said Mitchell, a stay-at-home defenseman who helped kill three straight penalties before scoring his first goal in 46 games. "Passes are there, support is there and coverage is there. We were forced into that with all the injuries."
Adrian Aucoin scored for the Flames, who had a two-game winning streak snapped. Calgary has lost six of eight, falling two points behind the Canucks.
"The word to use would be inconsistency," Flames coach Mike Keenan said. "We have a good power-play night and a bad penalty-killing night and we flip flop, or great goaltending and then not the best."
Miikka Kiprusoff started again for the Flames, even though he backstopped a win Saturday night in Edmonton. He has played every game this season and finished with 17 saves Sunday.
After losing Salo (broken nose) and Kevin Bieksa
for two months with a lacerated calf, the Canucks lost Ohlund to a four-game NHL suspension announced hours before the game. Ohlund was suspended for a baseball-swing Friday that left Minnesota forward Mikko Koivu with a cracked bone in his left leg.
Lukas Krajicek took Ohlund's place, returning a few games earlier than expected after missing 3 1/2 weeks with a broken bone in his ankle.
"The boys beared down," said Luongo, who has a .946 save percentage since the defensemen were hurt. "We lost another D-man, so guys just picked up the pace again and it was a really good effort from our group, especially in our own zone."
“They’ve been doing a phenomenal job, the guys stepped in,” said Brendan Morrison. “Can’t really say enough about how they played. I mean, we’ve got top four, top six D out right now, that’s a lot of pressure to deal with.”
In his first game back, Krajicek didn’t miss a beat, playing in over 18 minutes including 3:11 on the power-play.
“[Krajicek] said he was fine so once he said he was fine we just decided to play him,” said head coach Alain Vigneault. “I thought he played safe, we gave him minutes for him to feel his way through, and it worked out well, I thought he played a good game.”
Scored his first goal of the season and led all Canucks with 23:20 TOI.
Scored a goal and assisted on the game winner. Finished a +2.
Scored a goal, had an assist, and was a +2 on the night.
The Flames were also without a top defenseman most of the game after Robyn Regehr took a slap shot from Krajicek in the ear just 1:31 into the game. He was held out for the remainder of the game for precautionary reasons.
"It was a big loss early but we've got no complaints because you look at their roster and the people they have out, arguably their top-three defensemen," Keenan said. "(Regehr) will be evaluated (Monday). I think he's fine."
The Canucks got an early gift when Kristian Huselius collided with Anders Eriksson just 2:49 in after breaking up a Canucks rush. The loose puck went right to Sedin in the slot, where he beat a surprised Kiprusoff with a low backhand shot.
Aucoin tied it with a point shot off a Canucks player just over two minutes later. The Flames managed just three shots while failing to convert three straight power plays, including a pair of 30-second 5-on-3 advantages early in the second period.
"The thing we didn't do was we couldn't finish, but maybe that was Luongo's doing," said Keenan, who traded Luongo to Vancouver two years ago while he was the Florida Panthers general manager. "We had puck possession and some opportunities but he stopped the puck and he was exceptional, and Naslund and the Sedins were by far the best players in the game."
Vancouver then took control with two goals on four shots. Naslund circled the net and spotted a pinching Mitchell going to the net on the backdoor.
"We're not going to see that every day," Luongo said. "You appreciate what he does in your own zone, and when he gets a bonus like that it's nice to see."
Naslund then drove the net to convert some pretty power-play passing from the Sedin twins with 2:08 left in the period, and Isbister finished the scoring on the Canucks' first shot of the third period - his first goal in 33 games.
"If you want to have success in this league, you can't really count on one line," Isbister said. "That's been our key and we're playing a simplified game and buying into the system. When we do that, we're tough to beat."
The Canucks finish off their eight-game stretch against divisional teams on the road against Edmonton and Minnesota in back-to-back games and will enjoy taking some momentum with them.
“I do think we’ve been playing well here for quite some time,” said Vigneault. “The guys are probably just getting rewarded right now for all the hard work that they’ve put in and you need to get some bounces in this game now and then and we’re getting some right now so hard work is paying off.”
Notes: The Canucks are 8-0-1 within the Northwest Division, with the only loss a 1-0 shootout defeat against Edmonton on Wednesday. Calgary is 4-5-3 within the division. ... Ohlund will also miss a three-game road trip that includes a rematch with the Wild in Minnesota. He is eligible to return at home against Chicago next Sunday.