In The Driver’s Seat

After defeating their nearest Western Conference competition, the Vancouver Canucks appear to be in the driver’s seat with eight games remaining.

Many Canuck fans have voiced their concern this week over the teams chances heading into the post-season without Manny Malhotra.  Signed in the offseason to a healthy, though well-deserved contract, the uber-checking line center instantly brought a number of intangibles to the club.  Widely considered one of the best face-off players in the game, Malhotra’s special teams addition has worked wonders.  Addressing the club’s mediocre penalty killing (81.6 %, 18th overall) from last season, Manny’s presence and change of puck possession time shorthanded is a large factor in the PK’s resurgence.  They currently sit fourth (85.8%), though Washington, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh all only have a 0.1% edge.

Ryan Kesler fights for possession against Brad Stuart with Jimmy Howard caught in the frenzy

In their convincing 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings (for a more in-depth game breakdown: http://octopusthrower.com/2011/03/23/luongo-leads-vancouver-2-1-over-wings/#more-1159 ), Daniel Sedin scored his 39th and 40th goals of the season, moving him into a tie with Cory Perry for 2nd in the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy race.  Steven Stamkos still leads the race with 43 goals, but has been slumping since the All-Star break, while Perry and Sedin have both been surging.  The multi-point night for the Sedins also has them 1-2 in league scoring, Daniel with 95 points, Henrik with 88 points.  Runners-up are the other “team-tandem” of Steven Stamkos (86 pts) and Martin St. Louis (85 pts).

More importantly, the win adds more degrees of separation between the Canucks and the persuant Red Wings.  Though 10 points with 8 games remaining is not insurmountable, it would take a collapse of epic proportions for Detroit to overtake the Conference title.  For those watching the President’s trophy race, the Philadelphia Flyers sat idle Wednesday night, trailing the Canucks by 8 points, but holding two games in hand.

Daniel Sedin takes a shot on Howard as Niklas Lidstrom defends at Joe Louis arena

Roberto Luongo, named the games 2nd star, was instrumental in the outcome.  He turned all but one of the 40 shots directed at him away, earning a .975 save percentage.

With Malhotra’s eye injury preventing him from playing the rest of the regular season or playoffs, protection has become a hot-button topic here in Vancouver.  Kevin Bieksa, who saw his first action after missing 15 games to a broken foot, echoed the sentiments of a number of team-mates.  ”I tried on about three or four (visors) before practice.  I don’t know, maybe over time.  I’d like to get into one, but right now in midseason it would be hard for me to change.  But it’s definitely something I am considering.”  Bieksa led all Canucks in ice-time with 23:19 in his return; the team continues their four game road trip Friday in Atlanta against the Thrashers.

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