After dropping a 2-0 decision to the Montreal Canadiens, the Vancouver Canucks needed to regain some road swagger, and found it in the Nation’s capital.
Having run into a hot goaltender two nights previous, the Canucks were focused on working together, finding ways for everyone to contribute. All four lines were able to do just that, underlining the fact that, when everyone contributes, good things happen. It could be argued that Vancouver was fortunate that the Ottawa Senators, winners of four straight, decided to start Pascal Leclaire, instead of Brian Elliot. Leclaire, who seems to have lost the starting goaltending spot to Brian Elliot, has been injury prone over the last two seasons, and just finished nursing a groin injury. Seeing as how the game was knotted at 1 goal apiece midway through the second period, the 6-2 win had more to do with a better collective forecheck.
Ryan Kesler broke the deadlock with a tenacious forecheck, hammering Sergei to the end boards. Aaron Rome, half of the pleasant third defensive pairing surprise this season, pinched in to help keep the puck in Ottawa territory. Jannik Hansen found Kesler down low with a pass, and Kesler patiently waited for Leclaire to drop, then moved across the crease and deposited the puck. “We knew we were in a game after the second period and we needed to continue to get better,” said the center. “We couldn’t sit on that one goal and made a solid effort to get it.”
The play of the second line seemed like a response to criticism it’s come under of late, particularly their efforts on the road. Coming into the game, they had combined for a -14 rating away from Rogers Arena, with only a few points between them. “The first two goals in the third were simple plays. Get in on the forecheck, get the turnover, get to the net and shoot,” Kesler pointed out post-game. Mason Raymond appeared re-energized in the win, using his speed to draw players out of position, something that Alain Vigneault contends they’ve been looking for. “It’s the type of shift you have to have,” noted Vigneault, who earned his 300th NHL victory. “That’s playing the right way. Get behind the defence, and our defence was involved in the forecheck and Jannik made a really good play. Kes had two goals and he could have had four.”
Perhaps more important than the six goals was the play of Roberto Luongo. The Senators first goal could easily have unnerved the Montreal native, after Peter Regin struck Luongo’s leg with his stick to force the puck across the line. But Luongo showed resiliency and battled back after the questionable tally. “I had the puck on top of my pad and he kind of stuck me in my leg and it trickled in,” he recalled. “It could have gone either way, but I cheated a bit on the shot.” It has to be said, lesser goaltenders might not have been as unflappable as Luongo has been since having the captaincy removed. But Luongo remains focused on the task at hand, and if he rues not being the captain, he’s certainly not showing it. “I felt pretty good the whole game. It’s exciting to play in these kind of games and I held the boys in there and then we had a really big third period.” Early indications are that Roberto is going to enjoy another excellent November.
Another Canuck prospect proved the farm connection is a lot stronger than it used to be. Mario Bliznak, drafted in the seventh round of 2005, scored his first NHL goal in his third outing. The Czech registered 8:44 of playing time centering the fourth line, with Peter Schaefer sitting the game out. “I was just driving to the net, and the puck went in the air and it was a
lucky play,” recounted a humble Bliznak. “It feels good to get the first one and hopefully I can continue. The coach is trusting me to put me out against the big boys and it feels good. I got used to the speed and we got comfortable as a line.” That line also featured Tanner Glass, who scored for the first time in 61 games, and assisted on Bliznak’s goal.
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