Vancouver Canucks' 5-Step Plan to Avoid a Slow Start to 2013 Season

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2013

Vancouver Canucks' 5-Step Plan to Avoid a Slow Start to 2013 Season

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    With three games played, the Vancouver Canucks have now completed more than six percent of the 2013 NHL schedule. The team has just three points in the bank as they embark on their first tough road trip of the year.

    Currently sitting ninth in the Western Conference, the Canucks are not the only strong team who are off to a slow start. The Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and even the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings are still looking for their first wins of the year.

    Vancouver made some strides on Wednesday, besting the Calgary Flames in a shootout. Here's what they need to do to keep their ship on course.

5. Tighten Up the Penalty Kill

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    When the Canucks won their first Presidents' Trophy in 2010-11, they finished at or near the top of many regular-season statistical categories. They tied for second on the penalty kill at 85.6 percent.

    Last year, penalty-kill efficiency actually went up slightly to 86 percent, but that was only good for sixth place. Overall, teams throughout the league were defending more successfully when shorthanded.

    Through three games this year, the penalty kill is tied for 27th in the league at a woeful 58.3 percent success rate. That means they're giving up a goal on nearly every second penalty.

    The sample size is still small, but in three games the Canucks gave up three power-play goals to the Anaheim Ducks, one to the Edmonton Oilers and one to the Flames. The team needs to do a better job of limiting chances for their opposition, and successfully killing the penalties that they take.

4. Quality Bottom-6 Minutes

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    So far in 2013, fans have seen coach Alain Vigneault rolling his lines much more than he has in the past. This looks to be part of a strategy to manage the minutes of his top players and keep them fresher through the condensed schedule.

    Tough guy Dale Weise has come back to Vancouver with improved confidence after his lockout stint in the Dutch League. He has yet to register a point, but has already logged six shots on goal and is showing a willingness to get open in the offensive zone.

    The most important duty for the third and fourth line is to keep the puck out of the net and apply a little sandpaper to the opposition. If they can chip in with the odd goal now and then, that's a bonus.

3. Ride the Kassian Wave

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    After being traded for each other nearly a year ago, Zack Kassian and Cody Hodgson will forever be linked and compared.

    Hodgson got off to a fast start this year with the Buffalo Sabres, but Kassian has answered back with a couple of statement performances.

    The power winger has two goals in his last two games, took the decision from Ben Eager in a third period fight against Edmonton on Sunday and undressed Miikka Kiprusoff to score the shootout winner against Calgary on Wednesday.

    He has been named first star at Rogers Arena for the past two games and saw his ice time climb to 19:42 against Calgary, playing mostly first-line minutes with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

    If Kassian can continue to contribute offensively at this level, the Todd Bertuzzi comparisons will soon be rising to a roar.

2. Better Overall Defense

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    The Canucks got scorched for seven goals in their season opener, but the blame can't be laid entirely at the feet of the goaltenders. The defense was woeful against the Ducks—disorganized and easy for Anaheim to play against.

    In their subsequent games, the Canucks' blueliners have looked like they're getting their feet back under them and are starting to make more responsible plays. They'll make life a lot easier for Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo if they can live up to their reputation as one of the best defensive corps in the NHL.

1. Goaltending

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    The Vancouver Canucks are a team that's built from the net out.

    Having both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo on the roster may carry an emotional price tag, but it's also supposed to mean that the team has one of the strongest tandems in the league.

    The first game of the new season certainly didn't play out that way. Schneider was ventilated for five goals on 14 shots before making way for Luongo.

    Schneider put in a much more typical performance on Wednesday against Calgary. He played solidly throughout and saved the game in overtime before confidently stoning four out of five Flames in the shootout.

    Since Luongo's arrival in 2006, the Canucks have counted on their goaltending to steal some games. That pattern needs to continue this year if Vancouver hopes to have any chance of being in the conversation for the 2013 Presidents' Trophy.

     

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