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Getting the Most Out Of the "Special" Teams

Since the schedule maker decided to give the Canucks a nice "leisurely" start to the season, with no hockey of the local variety until Friday, let's see if we can fix the power play in the interim, shall we ? Or at least take a look at it while we are killing time until game day.

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The Vancouver power play was first in the NHL in 10 / 11, 4th a year later, and then dropped off a cliff to 22nd in 12 / 13, and a woeful 26th last year.

The penalty kill ? Well, in that same time frame, the progression goes third in 10 / 11, 6th, 8th, and a surprising 9th last year.

Obviously, it is that woeful, " off the cliff " failings of the power play that are going to draw the headlines, and with good reason.  A power play that features two of the more creative forwards in the entire NHL should never be THAT bad.

There was much to like in the first two games, powered by the resurgence of Sedinery, with the Radim Vrbata looking like Daniel and Henrik's long lost brother.  In the first two games, they went 1 for 3 on the road, and then got 11 opportunities at home, cashing in on 2.  That is good enough for 7th on the early list, at 30 %.  So, so far so good, right ?

There is a reason that coaches throughout the tenure of the Sedin Twins have looked for that right handed shot.  The Vrbata goal on the power play was a perfect example ( as was his timing to get to the no look pass by Daniel )  of how a right hand shot is there for the back door play.

When it is the first unit, the Sedins and Vrbata will find each other, but the revelation so far has been Kinden Vey.  He reads the play so well, and not only is there in the high slot for the shot, ( where he had a goal on the PP already ), but his puck sense and ability to read the play is superb.

It is early going, and personnel will change as the team waxes and wanes on special teams, but, for now, I like the first unit, and the way their skills mesh.  Imagine if Edler starts hitting the net with regularity !

The second unit ? Well, so far, it is Burrows, Bonino, and Higgins, with anyone from Tanev, to Bieksa or Hamhuis on the points.  The forward line up can shift and change, and is a lot more likely to do so if there is limited success.  The style of the second unit is much more straight forward, and basic.  Screen the goalie ( Burrows, and or Higgins ), feed the point, and put the puck in the net.  That is how Burrows got his first.

The power play TOI tells the tale. Those 10 / 11 players are the only ones that have had any real opportunities.  Willie Desjardins is likely to continue in that vein until there is a dry spell.  With Zack Kassian waiting in the wings, and several days of practice time before Friday, maybe we even see the young man get his shot.  More than likely though, he will have to bide his time until they get shut out on the power play.

So, what the hell are you talking about Dan ? "Fixing it" ?  Willie already did !  Well, perhaps.  The early indications are good.  But what do you do when the well runs dry, or one of the better, non Albertan teams starts to figure out the Sedin Cycle ?  Well, Linden Vey on the other half boards is one option, as is the more standard two defenders bombing away from both sides.

With Vey, making him the man to set things up is unlikely to happen too soon. Henrik Sedin is, and will be, the man as far as that role goes.  But watch for the team to do it more, "on the fly".  If teams are going to go all out, with a man short, to shut down the cycle, they are welcome to.  It will open up the ice on the other side, and with two guys on the ice with the vision to make plays instead of one, it becomes a "pick your poison" dilemma for the opposition.

The second unit will be more likely to change, as the coach experiments, and gets to know his guys better.  But the fact that they already play a more basic power play set up, coupled with having two defenders back there, should make it a safer, and somewhat more effective unit.

It is the second unit that is the key to putting the power play back in the Top 10.  Decent production is all that is required.  The Sedin unit is going to get theirs.  If this unit can just pay meat and taters hockey, and execute well enough to score every other game or so, look out NHL.

Now, the penalty kill.  It has remained Top 10 - ish for quite some time, and even in the Lost Season, was 9th in the NHL.  There are quite a few players on this team that can kill penalties.  With Ryan Kesler gone, the big minute guy is no longer available.  But even when he was one half of the Terror Twins, it was Alexandre Burrows who was heralded as a PL ace.

So far ( and again, it is only two games ! ), the penalty kill TOI shows that it is Nick Bonino and Chris Higgins leading the way for the forwards, with B-Rich and Burr' and closer in PK TOI to Henrik Sedin than those top 2.  What I liked about the PK, in the first two games, was the fact that guys like Shawn Matthias and Jannik Hansen were showing well ( I thought Matthias had one of his better games in the last one, powered by his PK time, for instance ) with limited time.  There are plenty of guys to do that job.  While Willie is going to use the Twins in the last 30 seconds like most every coach not named Torts ( because it works ! ), I would wager that it will be the special teams that is out there to score goals that will be watched closer than the PK, and the power play where we will see the lion's share of special teams TOI going when it comes to # 22 and # 33.

The Twins are going to be the impetus to making the power play deadly again, and while it should not just be on them, they are the straw that stirs the drink on this team.