Thursday, November 10, 2005

Canucks Hot - but captain sees room for improvement

BURNABY, B.C. (CP) - It's hard to kick a hockey team when they're up, but even though the Vancouver Canucks have a 10-4-2 record and lead the Northwest Division, some questions swirl about how good the NHL team is.
Even captain Markus Naslund admits the team isn't playing to its potential.
''We still can play a lot better,'' Naslund, who leads the Canucks in scoring with 10 goals and 18 points, said Wednesday.
''We still have to play a more disciplined game and not take as many penalties as we are. We have to come with more speed and use that off the rush more and get more shots.''
Some of the areas where the Canucks can be better include:

- Scoring:
Some of the best offensive players on the Canucks continue to be defenceman. Vancouver's defence has scored 13 goals of the team's 53 goals and collected 31 assists.
After Naslund, defencemen Sami Salo and Ed Jovanovski have 14 points each.
Salo has four goals this year, which is more than forwards Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison, Anson Carter and Richard Park.
- The not-so-top line:
Vancouver's big line of Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison has struggled. The unit, which earns a combined salary of $13.4 million US, has managed just 16 goals this season.
Naslund scored twice in Monday night's loss to Calgary giving him three goals in the last six games.
Bertuzzi scored for just the third time this season against Calgary, snapping a nine-game goal drought. He does have 10 assists.
Morrison has one goal and two assists in his last seven games.
''I think we're starting to feel physically better,'' said Naslund.
''It'll come. It's just a matter of time.''
- Who they have beaten and where:
Vancouver is unbeaten at home (7-0-0) but just 3-4-2 on the road and 4-4-2 against divisional opponents.
The Canucks have beaten good teams like Detroit and Dallas. They also have three wins against Minnesota, two over Phoenix and one each against Chicago and Columbus.
- Special Teams:
The Canuck power play is ranked 18th in the league while the penalty kill is 21st.
Vancouver is taking dumb penalties late and struggling to hold onto leads.
The Canucks dodged a bullet recently when they beat Minnesota despite playing the final two minutes, 26 seconds of the third period two men short.
They weren't so lucky against the Flames when Calgary scored the winning goal late in the third period while enjoying a two-man advantage.
''We've played hard but I don't think we've played smart,'' said Salo.
''We've taken penalties, made the wrong decisions. These are some areas we know we have to be better at. It's mostly being smart.''
- Goaltending:
Starting goaltender Dan Cloutier has won 30 or more games in a season three years in a row but still has his doubters.
Cloutier, who returned to practice Wednesday after missing five games due to a concussion, has a 5-2-1 record this year but a 3.54 goals-against average and .873 save percentage.
Alex Auld, who won the backup job this year and filled in for Cloutier, also has a 5-2-1 record. He enjoys a 2.25 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
Coach Marc Crawford doesn't want to hear any talk about a potential goaltender controversy in Vancouver.
''Alex is a good young goaltender but he is young,'' said Crawford.
''There is a right way to continue to utilize him nd we're going to try to make the right decisions with our goaltending all the time. Dan's the guy we believe is best suited to play the bulk of the games here.''
If the Canucks continue at their current winning pace they will finish with a team record 113 points.
But even Crawford admits the team needs some fine-tuning.
''You're always, not so much concerned, but aware of areas of improvement your team can make,'' he said.
''There are always things we're trying to stoke up and get a little bit better at.''
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