Lapierre licking his chops as the playoffs approach (photo credit to Jeff Vinnick).
The Canucks, depending on who they end up facing in round one of the postseason, need to find a way to deploy three lines that are a threat to score. It is simply a requirement against three-line clubs like St. Louis, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas (hey, Verne Fiddler is channeling his inner Wayne Gretzky right now). Okay, that last one may be a bit of a stretch, but the point remains.
Assuming Chris Higgins is back in time before the postseason, the Canucks should be able to create balance with a few simple lineup tweaks. And obviously how they structure their lines will be dependent on who they face in round one. As we saw on Tuesday evening, a series against the Blues would likely morph into nothing more than a back alley brawl with some goaltending on the side, that style will surely be accounted for in the lineup.
Let’s take a look at what the Canucks could (and should) do against a variety of different matchups come playoff time.
Opting for skill and speed
First thing – call Jordan Schroeder up from the AHL. Schroeder proved during his play in Vancouver that he is a legitimate NHL player.
He can’t be counted on to produce as a regular top six forward at this point in time (and top nine may be a bit of a stretch), but he can hold his own defensively against much bigger players. His strength and positioning are both NHL-calibre.
Schroeder isn’t great on faceoffs, but he wouldn’t have to take many defensive zone draws with the following lineup:
Sedin-Sedin-Burrows (lots of offensive zone starts, tough minutes)
Higgins-Roy-Hansen (two-way role, very tough minutes)
Raymond-Schroeder-Kesler (cushy zone starts and easier matchups)
Weise-Lapierre-Kassian/Ebbett (defensive role, easy minutes)
Kesler and Hansen are interchangeable in the above formation. If the Canucks end up playing a team with big forwards, I’d imagine Kesler will get a more prominent checking role. But the above combinations free him up to release his deadly wrist shot, which appears to have awoken from a two year hibernation (largely because of hip/shoulder/wrist injuries).
Kesler’s wrist in action:
Kesler feasted on weaker opponents during his 40-goal season back in 2010-11, and he could do the same with the above lines. He would take the faceoffs, and as Alain Vigneault explained, the Canucks system isn’t necessarily focused on having the center as the deep forward – it is a first come, first serve basis.
This lineup works for a few reasons. Roy is a very solid two-way center, and Higgins and Hansen are both very good in their own zone. The Canucks would probably opt for a bigger lineup against a bigger opponent, but the speed up front would be tremendous with this lineup (especially on the first three lines).
Going with grit and size
Schroeder may be in tough against a team like Los Angeles or St. Louis (I personally think he could do just fine, but Alain Vigneault isn’t the type to give unproven rookies a chance to prove themselves in playoff games, and I don’t mean that as a criticism).
Sedin-Sedin-Burrows have to stick together. Kassian and Hansen will both see time there, but the Canucks have the best chance at winning games when their top line is playing like a top line.
Raymond-Roy-Kesler would be the line to see the best opportunities to score (easier matchups). Again, a very fast line with a lot of skill.
That would leave the heavy lifting to Higgins-Lapierre-Hansen. Similar to the Torres-Malhotra-Hansen line from the 2010-11 regular season, this line would get buried in the defensive zone against the top opposing players. Lapierre is big and strong, and he’s a good enough skater to keep up with a lot of the top centers in the Western Conference.
And that would free up a fourth line to play a two-way role. Ebbett inbetween two gritty wingers – Sestito, Pinizzotto, Kassian, and/or Weise would all be in the mix here. The Canucks didn’t back down from the Blues on Tuesday night, but it was quite obvious that they can’t match the Blues’ size or toughness (and they would be foolish to try).
If the NHL decides to change the rules on the fly again, Mike Gillis and the Canucks will have a long summer ahead of him. But if not, the team would be best situated with a roster built on speed, tenacity, and skill. They didn’t beat Los Angeles last season because they couldn’t score goals (and because the Kings were a much better team).
The same can be said for the Final against Boston. Sure, the Big, Bad Bruins were rough and tough, but none of that gets any media attention if Tim Thomas doesn’t Hasek the Canucks with a ridiculous goaltending performance. Having three lines that can create offense isn’t a necessity to win in the regular season, but it is in the playoffs. It is almost time to get Schroeder back up in Vancouver.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @anguscertified