The importance of a good special teams unit cannot be understated in the post-lockout NHL world. More penalties are called and, therefore, the man advantage holds a greater influence on game outcomes than it did prior to 2005.

So, the fact the Canucks had the NHL’s top power play and fourth-best penalty kill heading into yesterday’s games bodes well for their fortunes over 82 games.

Last season, two teams in the league were top 10 in both special teams categories: the San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings. Not bad company, eh?
Vancouver’s strong power play shouldn’t be much of a surprise when you consider the top line of Henrik and Daniel Sedin along with Ryan Kesler.

Add Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff on defence and you have one of the most talented in the NHL. Also the team’s PP was sixth in the league last season.

But the penalty kill? The Canucks were a mediocre 18th in that department last year, squeaking along at an 81.6 per cent efficiency rate. It also bit them bad in the post-season, where the Canucks’ PK was a morbid 68.5 per cent, last in the league.

So the 86.9 per cent rate they were humming at heading into last night is a marked improvement, thanks largely to the off-season additions of Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra, who are 1-2 on the team in shorthanded time on ice. Add to those performances the key return of Alex Burrows and the ascensions of Jannik Hansen and Alex Edler as reliable shutdown players and the memories of Willie Mitchell, Ryan Johnson, Matt Pettinger and Andrew Alberts are distant.

As long as these type of performances keep up, the Canucks will have division and conference titles in their sights.

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