Canucks mid-term report card

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Three words summarize the Vancouver Canucks' first half of the 2005-2006 regular season: Rocky mountain low.

Canucks won just three times in 17 key matchups with Northwest Division rivals Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. That's six points of a possible 34 for Vancouver, which has a 23-14 overall regulation time record plus three shootout losses and two losses in overtime.

Saturday's overtime win against the Flames was the first win against an Alberta team this season. Canucks lost three times in regulation and once in a shootout to Calgary. A shootout loss and overtime loss to the Oilers plus a pair of regulation futilities has marked that series. Canucks sandwiched a pair of hard-fought wins against the Avalanche with three regulation losses and another in overtime.

Dramatic victories over the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers look good, but the Canucks must pick-up their game against their cross-Rocky rivals if they want home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"We haven't played up to our standards; we've been way too inconsistent," conceded captain Markus Naslund. "The thing we have to adjust the most is the approach to games and the way we start games, not fall behind like we have."

OFFENSE

When it comes to consistency, Naslund is leading by example with 22 goals and 25 assists - 17th in the league. If only Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison would follow their leader every game. They've had their moments, but they'll need a better second half.

General manager Dave Nonis' off-season signing of Anson Carter looks like a genius move. Carter is having fun as the "brother from another mother" alongside Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Speedy Richard Park has yet to find his stride. Apart from an overtime-winning goal against the Nashville Predators, he's had a quiet season. Grade: B

DEFENSE

Sami Salo (nine goals and 20 assists) and Ed Jovanovski (6-22) are 10th and 13th on blue line scoring league-wide. But they can only do so much. Nolan Baumgartner (3-16) has amply filled one of the two spots vacated last summer when Marek Malik signed with the New York Rangers and Brent Sopel was traded to the New York Islanders. Trail-born, ex-Chicago Blackhawk Steve McCarthy was supposed to be the other replacement, but has been hampered by a groin injury. Canucks have little depth on the farm, so Nonis will need to make a deal before the trade deadline to shore up defense. Grade: C+

GOALTENDING

Alex Auld took over as the Canucks' number one netminder in December when Dan Cloutier's knee ligament surgery ruined his season. Auld is 15-10-3 with a 2.89 goals against average. Sometimes he looks like a surefire number one, but other times he shows his inexperience. Veteran 38-year-old Wade Flaherty is mired in Manitoba where he's been marvelous for the Moose. He must be wondering what he needs to do for a ticket to Vancouver for one more chance at the NHL. The answer to Vancouver's goaltending riddle is simple: Wade or trade. Grade: C-

SPECIAL TEAMS

They've allowed twice as many shorthanded goals (six against and three for), but are eighth in power play scoring with 54 goals. They're 15th in penalty killing, with 46 goals allowed. Most troubling is the shootout, where head coach Marc Crawford's crew is totally predictable: Naslund, Daniel Sedin and Bertuzzi. Ryan Kesler is the only other player who was given a chance. Bertuzzi and Daniel Sedin have connected once each and that was in the Dec. 9 shootout win over the Ottawa Senators. Otherwise, Bertuzzi has missed three times while Naslund is 0-for-4. Grade: C+

FANS

The strongest, most consistent part of the Canucks' game isn't even on the ice. So much for post-lockout anger; Vancouverites with money to burn are only too eager to fill the pockets of Orca Bay barons John McCaw and Francesco Aquilini. Fans need a Stanley Cup this spring or a deep discount next fall. Most would be happy with the former. Grade: A-


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