The Canucks were thoroughly outclassed in game one by a bigger, more physical, and much more disciplined Kings squad. Thankfully the series is a best-of-seven and not a best-of-one. The Canucks are in a hole, but they’ve got time to stem the tide and there were some bright spots on Wednesday (Jannik Hansen was sensational, as was Roberto Luongo). But there are also a number of issues to iron out if the team hopes to level the series before heading to Los Angeles on the weekend.
Read past the jump to find out what they are.
End the defensive pairing experimentation.
Alex Edler had his head elsewhere on Wednesday night. He played a lot, created a few scoring chances, and wasn’t bad in his own zone (aside from his turnover on the game winner by Dustin Penner). It was a far cry from his past two playoff openers, however – in both 2010 and 2011, the mild-mannered Swede channeled Scott Stevens and Paul Coffey at the same time, turning in two memorable performances. The Edler-Bieksa pairing didn’t make sense when it was created, and it still doesn’t. Both are defensemen who like to wander around a bit, whether to throw a hit or make a play offensively.
It is time to get Bieksa and Hamhuis back together, Edler and Salo back together, and Rome and Tanev to even things out on the bottom pairing. For a team that seems to make good decisions with their defensive pairings on a consistent basis, the recent switch has me thoroughly confused.
Keith Ballard is close to returning, but don’t expect to see him back in the lineup in this series (unless Aaron Rome decides to start throwing some open ice checks any time soon).
Pull Out the Amex Card
Without Daniel Sedin still out, the Canucks need an offensive line to carry the play at even strength. Putting Higgins-Kesler-Booth back together is their best bet to achieve that. Higgins had a quiet game one, and he has more to give offensively than the current role he is being put in. It doesn’t help that the Kopitar line absolutely dominated against Vancouver’s checking unit. I would slide Lapierre down to that third line (assuming he or Hansen can move over to the left wing with Pahlsson up the middle).
The ‘top’ line was pretty good, considering they haven’t really played together at all. Henrik Sedin is still a dominant player without Daniel, but the penalty parade killed any chance he had to really get his game going. When he was on the ice, he was making things happen. Higgins seems to have a positive influence on Booth and Kesler too – the game becomes simpler for those two, and at this time of year, simpler is often better.
Chip and Chase
The Canucks won’t be able to outhit the Kings. They tried that on Wednesday, and all it got them was numerous trips to the penalty box. They do still have some recourse though, and Vancouver is a much faster team than the Kings are. The Canucks need to do what Hansen did so well on Wednesday – chip pucks past defenders, get to them first, and set up in the offensive zone.
Hansen, Kesler, Higgins, Booth, and Raymond are all fantastic skaters. While he Kings have a lot of skill up front, they will give up some odd-man rushes if the teams start trading chances. It’s essential that Vancouver get the likes of Mitchell, Greene, and Scuderi turning to retrieve pucks every single shift.
The Canucks did a great job this season of dispelling the notion that they are a group of divers. Max Lapierre dropped the gloves with regularity, and the team avoided any fines or suspensions from the league. However, the diving and embellishment that was so prominent last playoff run unfortunately appeared all too often on Wednesday. Not only is Ryan Kesler never going to get a call in his favor ever again, but if he keeps snapping his head back on contact he is going to give himself a concussion.
Beyond the flopping, the team needs to stop trying to intimidate the opposition. They did so well this season getting back to their skating and skill game – the lack of composure on Wednesday is a little bit troubling.
This isn’t meant to induce worry and panic (not yet, at least). Seven games is a long time, as we saw last year in the opening around against Chicago. But heading into game two, the Canucks need to make some common sense adjustments, and the four suggestions above would be a good place to start.