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Canucks need to be better early in games to snap losing skid, says coach

VANCOUVER, B.C. - There has been a lot wrong with the Vancouver Canucks lately.

The penalty killing has been bad, the power play worse and goaltender Roberto Luongo has been merely human, which isn't good enough if the team hopes to return to the NHL playoffs.

But the one statistic that really leaps out at coach Alain Vigneault is the team has been outscored 10-5 in the first period of its last five games. Bad starts have put the Canucks behind the eight-ball early and forced the team to spent most of its time during a recent six-game road trip trying to come from behind.

"The start of our games have to be better," Vigneault said after the team practised at GM Place Thursday. "We know it, we've talked about it. We're going to continue to address it.

"We're not playing bad, we're not getting out chanced, we're not getting out worked. We are really close to getting our A game on the ice for three periods."

The Canucks received some bad news when they learned forward Pavol Demitra could be gone a month with a rib injury.

Demitra has a fractured cartilage in his eighth rib and will be gone for three to four weeks, said Vigneault. Demitra, who signed a two-year, US$8-million free-agent contract this summer, has two goals and an assist so far this season.

Centre Rick Rypien is still sidelined with a virus infection while defenceman Sami Salo is listed day-to-day with a pulled groin.

There was plenty of optimism in Canuck Nation after Vancouver breezed through the pre-season with a 6-0-1 record, then started the regular season with a pair of victories against Calgary. Since then the Canucks have struggled to a 1-4 record and have been outscored 21-10.

The season is only seven games old but a 3-4-0 record leaves the Canucks 10th in the Western Conference. Vancouver's next game is at home Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers.

"It's early," said centre Ryan Kesler, who may be the best Canuck, playing on the team's best line along with Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen. "We all know what we are capable of here. We know we can get better."

Vigneault said the Canucks have played well at even strength. The problem is, Vancouver's special teams have been horrible.

The Canucks have just three goals in 33 man-advantages. Heading into Thursday night Vancouver's power play was ranked 29th out of 30 teams.

The penalty kill is slightly better with a 75-per-cent rating and ranked at 26th in the league.

"That's one area we need to improve on," said Kesler. "We're working hard at that but we're not getting the puck luck."

Vigneault was tinkering with the power play Thursday, having Jason Krog move up onto the first unit with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

"He's a little bit more of a playmaker and has a great shot," said Henrik Sedin.

For the Canucks to win Luongo has to be nearly perfect most nights, something he has not been. The Canuck captain has a 3.33 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage.

"It's not the numbers I'm liking," said Luongo, who was on the ice by himself about an hour before practice. "I've been feeling pretty good about the way I'm moving and seeing the puck. Unfortunately the results have not been there for me right now."

Luongo hasn't had much help offensively. Vancouver has scored 22 goals so far this season but six of those came in the season-opening 6-0 win over Calgary. Another five were scored in an overtime win against the Flames.

Kesler leads the team in scoring with three goals and four assists. Burrows has three goals and six points.

That contrasts with Daniel Sedin, who plays on the first line with Henrik, but has not registered a point in the last five games.

The season is still young and the Canucks have plenty of time to turn things around. Winger Steve Bernier said the upcoming home games against Edmonton and Boston on Tuesday will be important.

"If you want to make the playoffs you need to win at home very often," he said. "We just have to play the same way we did against Calgary the first games. If we do that we have more chances to win for sure."

Veteran defenceman Mattias Ohlund said the Canucks have managed to keep games close despite not playing their best.

"When you lose playing at your best you can accept that," he said. "But when you lose the way we have for three or four games, and played very average, that's when you get in trouble.

"If we play up to our potential we are going to be fine."



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