They shoot... they miss

BOB MACKIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

Whether the Vancouver Canucks secure home-ice advantage in the playoffs - or a playoff berth altogether - could be determined by a single shot.

In the era of Commis-sioner Gary "Desperate for American TV Viewers" Bettman's manufactured parity can you separate all the blue-ribbon teams from the lemons with a simple glance at the standings anymore? - the results of a shootout could be the difference between a trip to the tin cup or Stanley Cup playoffs in spring.

Through Sunday's action, 11.16 per cent of games this season have been decided by a shootout.

The Canucks' woeful 0-4 performance in the last-chance showdown tiebreaker ought to be cause for concern among Alain Vigneault's coaching staff. With 49 games remaining, there is time to improve by creating a third special team to handle the shootout.

The Canucks leave shootout training until the end of practice, meaning it's low on the priority scale for both shooters and goaltenders. The one-on-one drills should be held right after powerplay and penalty kill scenarios. They should also be recorded and analyzed. Detailed analysis should also be undertaken of opposing teams' shootout strategies. Canucks' scouts and goaltending consultant Ian Clark should be part of the discussion.

The Canucks are dead last in shootout winning percentage, primarily because of three losses to the Edmonton Oilers. The Montreal Canadiens (2-4) and San Jose Sharks (1-4) have slightly better records.

Nine Canucks have made a combined 18 shootout attempts this season, but only Trevor Linden (twice) and Ryan Kesler (once) have beaten opposing goaltenders. The 16.6 per cent success rate is far below the league average of 34.57 per cent. Roberto Luongo (0-3) and Curtis Sanford (0-1) have combined to allow seven of 18 shots.

The Oilers (10-1) are the league's best shootout squad with a 49 per cent scoring rate.

How valuable are the points? If Vancouver had beaten the Oilers in their three shootout meetings, the Canucks would've gone to sleep Saturday night in sole possession of second place in the Western conference. The Oilers would've been 11th. Instead, the Canucks were fifth and Edmonton 10th. The importance of conference rankings and the role played by shootout results will be amplified after the schedule's halfway point.

Of course, the best antidote is winning games in regulation time. To their credit, the Canucks have done so 15 times this season.


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