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Lowly Columbus Blue Jackets hand Vancouver a sixth-straight road loss to pull closer in standings
Brad Ziemer, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, December 23, 2006

CANUCKS I COLUMBUS -- Sure, it may be almost Christmas, but it's feeling more like Groundhog Day around the Vancouver Canucks.

Every game follows the same familiar script.

Friday night started a lot like Thursday night which began a lot like Tuesday night. And the endings are all the same, too. The Canucks lose.

Friday night, they dropped a 3-2 decision to the suddenly resurgent Columbus Blue Jackets, who it should be mentioned are now just six points behind Vancouver in the Western Conference standings with two games in hand.

The Canucks have now lost six straight on the road by a combined score of 25-8. Those last three defeats came on the three-game trip that mercifully ended here Friday night. The Canucks now have a three-day Christmas break to try and regroup.

Just like they did in Boston on Thursday night, the Canucks started slowly, took some undisciplined penalties and fell behind 2-0 in the first period. And just like a night earlier, they carried the play for much of the remainder of the game and lost.

"It was pretty much the same scenario as the last game," said captain Markus Naslund, who smashed his stick in frustration after the game. "We took some penalties and found ourselves down 2-0 after the first and finally we start working. I've said it so many times before. Penalties kill us. We lose rhythm and obviously they get a lot of momentum."

It wasn't just the penalties, it was the kind of penalties the Canucks were taking. Brendan Morrison was called twice in the first for hooking, Matt Cooke took a silly too-many-men penalty -- one of three the Canucks had in the game -- and late in the third Daniel Sedin took a retaliatory penalty that robbed Vancouver of a power-play opportunity it desperately needed.

Coach Alain Vigneault is beginning to sound like he's reaching his wit's end with some of his players.

"Obviously again, our lack of discipline hurt us," he said. "Again, giving the opposition five power-play opportunities in the first period. We talked about it and addressed it. I've never seen three times in the same game where we get called for too many men on the ice. That's never happened to me before. That's not a hard thing. Your player comes to the bench, you jump on for him. If he stays on the ice, you don't."

And when you have a wide open net, you hit it. The Canucks again showed a frustrating lack of finish all night.

Former Canuck Anson Carter played a big part in the Blue Jackets' fast start. It was his pass out of the corner to defenceman Aaron Johnson that set up the first Columbus goal at 6:36 of the first period. Johnson's shot from just inside the left point beat Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who thought he had been bumped on the play by Alexander Svitov.

Carter put Columbus up 2-0 at 13:45 of the first. With Morrison serving his second hooking penalty of the period, Carter banged in a rebound off a shot by Ron Hainsey. Carter then saved what looked to be a Vancouver goal when he swept the puck off the goal line at the 1:40 mark of the second.

Perhaps the Canucks should have just paid him the money in the off-season.

The Canucks made it 2-1 on a 5-on-3 power play early in the second. Defenceman Kevin Bieksa's shot from just inside the blue line beat Columbus goalie Fredrik Norrena, who had just relieved an injured Pascal Leclaire.

The Canucks had an excellent chance to tie it in the first minute of the third, when Daniel Sedin had what looked to be a wide open net at the edge of the crease. Norrena was flat on his back, but managed to get his paddle on Sedin's shot.

"You can do one of two things," Sedin said. "You can shoot a one-timer, but I took my time because he was down. I got it up, too."

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