Canucks' goalie Essensa: Predators' nightmare

Wednesday, January 3, 2001 at 1:00am

Chances are, there are not many aspiring goalies who spend their free time dreaming of being Bob Essensa. Not with the likes of Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek and a host of other more noteworthy names to idolize.

For the Nashville Predators, however, he is nothing short of a nightmare.

Monday, in a New Year�s matinee before 16,043 at Gaylord Entertainment Center, Essensa was the foundation from which the Vancouver Canucks� high-flying offense launched once again as the Predators were beaten 5-2. Vancouver, second place in the Northwest Division, has 11 goals in its last two games, 15 in three meetings with Nashville this season and is second in the NHL in scoring.

The combination of that attack and Essensa is pure poison to the Predators. All-time the 35-year-old journeyman is 5-0-0 against Nashville with two different teams. He is the only goalie in the league with at least five decisions against the Predators never to have lost to them.

�He�s played a long time,� said defenseman Drake Berehowsky, a former teammate of Essensa�s in Edmonton. �He knows how to play the game. He takes away the angles, and he doesn�t try to make the spectacular save all the time. He just stops the puck.�

He stopped 26 shots in this one and improved to 9-3-1 for the season as Vancouver�s No. 2 man behind Felix Potvin. In a 10-year NHL career that was interrupted by a two-year minor-league run from 1994-96, Essensa has played more than 50 games just three times. Still, he was an all-rookie selection in 1990 and has a winning record for his career (172-165-46), which includes six different stops, three of them with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise.

The majority of his saves in his latest triumph might have been ordinary, but he had his moments.

For example, four minutes into the second period, with the Canucks up just 1-0, he stopped David Legwand on a breakaway. In the final minute of the period he turned away a one-timer from Bill Houlder, who teed off from the slot.

In between those two was a scramble in his crease during a Nashville power play. At one point, the Predators believed they actually had jammed the puck in, but play continued. Moments later Vancouver scored shorthanded.

Officials reviewed video of the play in front of the Vancouver net and decided that Essensa had, in fact, kept the puck out.

�He�s a battler,� right wing Scott Walker, who was involved in that particular scramble, said. �He never gives up on the play. That one was a perfect example. He never stopped fighting and kicking and working to keep the puck out of the net.�

Essensa�s job this time was made a lot easier by the fact that Vancouver played with a lead virtually the entire contest. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin scored 19 seconds after the opening faceoff with a slapshot. That goal tied New Jersey�s Randy McKay for the second-fastest from the start of a game ever allowed by the Predators.

Nashville goalie Mike Dunham started to his knees when Aucoin shot from the blue line, but the puck apparently deflected off a stick along the way as it beat Dunham over the left shoulder. The Nashville netminder stopped 32 shots of his own after that but was equally helpless at times against a string of odd-man rushes and even the occasional breakaway.

�I thought Dunham gave us a solid effort,� coach Barry Trotz said. �But it was ruined by everyone else. When you give up a goal on the first shift it doesn�t do a lot for your confidence, but that�s no excuse.�

And Essensa might not be a legend, but that does not mean he cannot get the job done.

David Boclair covers pro sports for the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal.

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