With their first road win in five tries Tuesday in Edmonton, Vancouver is looking to gain momentum on the road in Denver tonight.
Satisfied to come away with two points and their first road victory of the season, the Canucks edged out the Oilers 4-3. After building a 3-0 lead, Edmonton kept chipping away, while the Canucks eased off the offensive throttle. The young Oilers club hustled, and out-worked a Canucks club that has to continue to attack in order to be successful. Certainly, having Roberto Luongo behind them minding the net adds a certain air of confidence to the team. But because they are marginal in their own zone, they must learn to stay true to their attacking form. They gave young Andrew Cogliano and Ales Hemsky room and space in the neutral zone, with poor results. In Colorado tonight, if they afford Hejduk, Stastny, or Stewart that kind of room, they’ll find themselves on the wrong side of the score sheet.
Perhaps Vancouver’s three straight penalty kills wound up being the difference in the game. It was the fifth straight game that they’ve denied a powerplay goal, which moves their overall penalty kill to 10th best in the league. Of interest, they are ranked 2nd at home, while their road penalty kill is ranked 28th. Ryan Kesler weighed in on the teams’ efficiency while short a player. ”I just think we’re playing as a unit out there. We’re taking short shifts and we’re rolling through really well. We’ve got really good duos of forwards and we’re just getting the job done. It’s good that we have a righty and a lefty (handed players) who can win draws consistently. A big part is puck possession and clearance.”
Kesler’s reference to the faceoffs is noteworthy, because the addition of Manny Malholtra has been a godsend. As he’s prone to do, he leads the NHL in faceoff win percentage (64.6%) and has added a new element of speed and puck possession to the kill. Alain Vigneault agrees. ”That’s probably the important change in our PK right now. Probably two out of three times, the puck is in the other end right off the bat. Our first reflex right now in penalty killing is we’re going to get it down the ice and that changes the whole dynamics.”
Cory Schneider (0.86 GAA, .968 sv %) has had an excellent start to his first full season, will get the start against the Avalanche (6-4-1). Two hundred feet away, Peter Budaj is Colorado’s incumbent starter after Craig Anderson tore his ACL during warm-up in their previous game against the Canucks. Budaj has won two straight games since that encounter, and the Avalanche enjoyed a four day break.
The return of Alex Burrows is encouraging on a number of fronts. On the road, he’s a spark plug on the penalty kill, and will certainly improve Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s game. ”I was surprised at how good he was,” said Henrik. ”I thought he kept his shifts short. We had a few shifts where we could feel the chemistry back. It’s going to take a while. he’s been missing a lot of games. But it felt good right away. The small plays we make with each other were there, so I’m happy.”
Burrows scrutinized himself a little more closely. ”Not great, not right away. I just wanted to stay composed and keep my shifts pretty short and simple. It’s going to take a couple of games for me to come back to a good game but I’m looking forward to it.”
The Canucks defensive strength will definitely be tested in Denver. Chris Stewart (a player Dave Nonis passed over with the #14 pick in 2006, and instead chose Michael Grabner) is tied for 2nd in the NHL for points. He is also second behind Steven Stamkos for goals (9), and has a 26.47% shooting accuracy thus far. Alain Vigneault feels special teams will factor heavily into tonight’s result. ”Special teams, whether it’s getting a timely goal on the power play or getting a timely kill, is huge on the road for keeping momentum going. I think that will go a long way for us. We can be better than a game below .500 on the road and I think being better at killing penalties will help us do that.” Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler each had their 3rd goal of the season last time out against the Avalanche, with Jeff Tambellini and Peter Schaefer also tallying for the white, blue and teal.