Sports Hockey

Lacking killer instinct 0

By Hosea Cheung, 24 hours Vancouver

The tables are turning for Vancouver, but not all is well just yet.

Despite the two encouraging victories this past week - against Carolina and Chicago - the Canucks are far from clinching a playoff spot.

And that path will only get more treacherous if Vancouver can't find a way to fix the flaws that are still haunting their game - the biggest of which is their penalty kill.

"It's let us down especially in the last month," said checking centre Ryan Johnson. "The penalty kill shouldn't just get by and be functional, it needs to win you games."

As part of the seventh-ranked penalty kill unit last season with the St. Louis Blues, Johnson knows a thing or two about PK execution.

"It boils down to predictability and trust, you got to trust that the other three guys out there are doing their jobs," he said. "Sometimes less is more and maybe we have to calm ourselves down a little bit."

It's pretty tough to stay calm though when looking at the recent dismal penalty kill numbers.

Over the past 10 games, Vancouver has allowed 15 power-play goals against in 43 opportunities, with six of those tallies being game winners.

That's a 65.1 per cent kill rate, dropping Vancouver's overall season PK ranking to 23rd at 79.1 per cent.

It's a far cry from the No. 1 ranked unit in '06/'07 that put together a tremendous 86.9 per cent rate.

"We should be better than two years ago because we have better personnel," said defenceman Willie Mitchell. "There's too good of a [roster] for it not to be better down the stretch."

Whether it be failing to win defensive zone faceoffs or the inability to clear the puck, it's tough to pinpoint an exact cause for the struggling penalty kill.

Heck, even bad bounces could be blamed.

In the end though, the best way to prevent power-play goals against is to not be shorthanded. However, not everyone on this team is a Kyle Wellwood.

With an average of 17.8 PIMs per game, the Canucks are the third most penalized team in the league prior to Monday night with 905 penalty minutes, including 227 minor infractions, and plenty of those are due to negligence: Hooking, holding, slashing, high-sticking and tripping. In fact, Vancouver has 32 of those lazy penalties over the past dozen games.

It just goes to show that discipline is also a major problem with this team.

There's no doubt that the two wins this past week mark a great momentum shift for the Canucks, but it's too dangerous to overlook the blemishes.

Vancouver must stay out of the box and start killing off penalties before it ends up killing their postseason dreams.


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