VANCOUVER, B.C. – Henrik Sedin has become a sniper and shot his way to the top of the NHL scoring race.
He’s shooting more and with deadly accuracy, making some wonder why the Vancouver Canucks centre hadn’t done that earlier in his career.
“It’s just our line (of brother Daniel and Alex Burrows) is playing better and there are more chances to shoot,” the self-deprecating Swede explained after Friday’s practice.
But here he is in his ninth season and, with 20 goals and 64 points, leading Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks by three points entering Friday’s play.
He’s also ahead of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, both with 57 points.
“It’s nothing I think about,” Henrik said of the scoring race. “Burr’s scoring a lot of goals and Danny, his points per game is up in the top three in the league too.”
On Saturday, he’ll face Crosby, who has 30 goals in 47 games, the fastest trip to that plateau in his career. The Canucks meet the Stanley Cup champions after losing three straight – all while tied 2-2 entering the third period.
Coach Alain Vigneault said that should energize Henrik and his brother, who had few scoring chances in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
“They’re going to have (Evgeni) Malkin and Crosby there right in front of them to be really motivated and to want to prove that they really belong to the elite in the NHL.”
Shooting his way to the top began in earnest for Henrik after the fourth game of the season, when Daniel suffered a broken foot and missed 18 games.
Henrik scored 10 goals during Daniel’s recovery, half the number of his career-high 20 set last season when each identical twin had an identical 82 points in an identical 82 games.
He led the Canucks during that 11-7-0 stretch with Daniel out and has earned first-half MVP mentions, including one from SI.com, the website for Sports Illustrated.
“It was just a matter of playing with a lot of different guys and if you have (the puck) you shoot,” Henrik said.
Associate coach Rick Bowness agrees.
“The Daniel injury kind of forced him to do that,” he said of Henrik’s shooting epiphany. “He realized, wow, this is great and he’s going to keep doing it.”
The last Canuck to lead NHL scorers is Markus Naslund, who is from the same hometown of Ornskoldsvik as Sedin, and was briefly tied for top spot in February 2004.
Shooting wasn’t always in Henrik’s nature, said Bowness.
“They’re just so used to looking for each other with one guy (Daniel) being the finisher and one guy being the set-up guy. When the finisher isn’t there, the set-up guy has to shoot the puck.”
Daniel has led the Canucks in goals for the last three seasons, including 31 last year and a career high 36 in 2006-07.
“They were fine the way it was going,” Bowness said. “Now it’s just been taken to another level.”
Henrik, 29, leads the team in goals, along with Burrows who also has 20 thanks to a 10-goal spree in his last six games.
But Sedin’s best stat could be his shooting percentage. He has taken 94 shots with 21.3 per cent going in, making him second in NHL accuracy behind Washington centre Tomas Fleischmann.
Henrik is on pace for 164 shots this season, more than his career high of 143 last year. Crosby, by contrast, has already taken 185 shots.
“It opens up things,” Daniel said of his brother’s new-found inclination to shoot. “Other teams have to respect his shot too. They can’t really think he’s going to pass it every time.”
So, why has it taken this long? “A lot of it has to do with confidence,” said Daniel. “Before, he was shooting just to get the puck to the net.
“Now he’s shooting to score and he realizes he can score if he shoots the puck and that’s a big difference.”
Both Henrik and Burrows have blossomed in the 25 games since Daniel returned Nov. 22.
Henrik, who had a 10-game points streak end Wednesday, has 29 points in that period while Burrows has 25, including 16 goals.
“I knew we could play without him too but it makes a big difference when he’s there,” Henrik said of Daniel who combined with him to be the NHL’s top one-two scoring punch in December.
The abraisive Burrows said the Canucks’ six-game loss to Chicago in the second round of the playoffs strengthened the twins’ resolve to improve.
“They were looking for a big season, both of them, after coming back from that disappointment last year,” said Burrows, who scored a career-high 28 goals last year, most of them with the twins.
Notes: Saturday’s game is also likely to match Canadian Olympic netminders Roberto Luongo of the Canucks and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury … Canuck defenceman Willie Mitchell left practice early because of a sore back … Forward Pavol Demitra, who hasn’t played this season because of a long rehab from shoulder surgery, has been cleared to play but will likely be a game-day decision, Vigneault said.