Mistakes cost Canucks points in January

Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008

By Lucas Aykroyd

Are the Vancouver Canucks a Stanley Cup contender? You might think so, simply due to the presence of superstar goalie Roberto Luongo. In addition, recent rumors claim Vancouver GM Dave Nonis could be looking to acquire Toronto captain Mats Sundin to ramp up his club’s secondary scoring before the February 26 trade deadline.

However, unlike 2006-07, the Canucks haven’t improved their game drastically since Christmas. After a 4-3 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings on January 19, Vancouver remained in the playoff hunt, but was heading in the wrong direction.

“The Kings are in last place in the Western Conference, and they beat us in all three games this year,” said Luongo. “We’ve lost five out of our last six, so I don’t think our confidence is too high right now.”

Recent losses to lower-echelon clubs like Phoenix and Columbus also showed Vancouver isn’t adhering as closely to coach Alain Vigneault’s air-tight defensive system as during the span of November 9 to January 8, when the team went unbeaten (12-0-2) at home.

“In situations like this, you’ve just got to make sure you work hard and do things right in practice, and it’ll carry over into the games,” Luongo said.

Against Los Angeles, the team generated 46 shots on goal, but couldn’t get a win for captain Markus Naslund on a night when he was honored for playing his 1,000th career NHL game in Detroit two days earlier.

Ironically, a pre-game video tribute for the 34-year-old Swedish forward didn’t show him scoring a single goal (just kind words from teammates), although the Canucks loaded him up with a silver-plated stick, framed jersey, flowers, crystalware, and a trip to Hawaii. Naslund is on pace to score less than 30 goals this year, unlike his glory days alongside Todd Bertuzzi, when he was acclaimed as the best left winger in hockey.

As captain, though, Naslund is more concerned about improving his team’s defensive play: “We have to cut out the mistakes. We’re turning pucks over way too many times, and giving up quality chances. We’re breaking it down every day on video, but I guess we’ve got to do it even more and pay better attention, because it’s costing us games.”

Injuries have also hurt the Canucks. Veteran center Brendan Morrison is out until March due to wrist surgery, and there is still no sense of when defenseman Kevin Bieksa will return to action after having his calf sliced open by a skate blade versus Nashville on November 1.

Getting Mattias Ohlund back versus the Kings was a plus. The veteran Swedish blueliner had missed 11 games due to a concussion. Ohlund scored his 84th career goal versus Edmonton on December 15, lifting him past Jyrki Lumme to become the all-time goal leader among Canucks defensemen. His stability in his own zone will be even more crucial down the stretch.

On the bright side, another Swedish defenseman, rookie Alexander Edler, has emerged as the team’s plus-minus leader, and Ryan Kesler is playing his best-ever hockey at the NHL level as a shutdown center, agitator, and occasional scorer. The Sedin twins, as expected, are producing a point per game apiece as the team’s offensive go-to guys.

The Canucks have sold out nearly 200 straight home games at the 18,630-capacity GM Place. But without greater consistency on defense and more scoring up front, there won’t be anything for Vancouver fans to celebrate in June.

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