Although they are down two games to none in the series at this moment, the Canucks have played pretty solid hockey for the most part (outside of Wednesday’s first and third periods). However, I am not really sure if that is a positive, or not. The fact that they have generated three goals in 120 minutes while playing good hockey is reason for concern.
Antti Niemi has been good when needed, but San Jose’s defense group (on paper, at least) is nothing to write home about. The Larry Robinson factor is definitely playing a part in their success, but the Canucks simply haven’t been able to turn their physicality and hard work into meaningful scoring opportunities.
Read on for some subtle lineup changes that the team should make for Game 3 at the Shark Tank on Sunday evening.
1) Insert Jordan Schroeder into the lineup
Andrew Ebbett is a great 13th forward. He is versatile, dependable, and experienced. However, he is clearly overmatched against the Sharks – the pace of play is above what he is used to, and he has been completely ineffective (and in fact a detriment to the team at even strength).
Schroeder isn’t strong on the draw. That is a strike against him. But he proved himself to be a solid player away from the puck during his time in Vancouver this season, and he has immensely more offensive ability than Ebbett does. Bring him in, put him on the second power play unit, and give him limited even strength minutes. He can’t do any worse than Ebbett has done through two games. And Ebbett’s penalty killing is a nice bonus, but the Canucks have a ton of other forwards who can and do play on the PK.
2) Promote Dale Weise, Demote Mason Raymond
As good as he was through the first few weeks of 2013, Mason Raymond has hit a brick wall (and then some) over the past few months. He has been completely invisible through the first two games of this series. I had some hope that he could use his speed to generate offense against the likes of Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan, but Raymond hasn’t done anything. He won’t be back next season, that much we know, but it would be nice to see him close out his Vancouver career on a high note. He has been a solid player for the team, and developed quite nicely after the team took him in the second round back in 2005.
But he simply isn’t a factor right now. Dale Weise, for all of his shortcomings, has been the most consistent Canuck from a forechecking/physical perspective. He hits man more than he hits the boards, and he is an underrated skater and a reliable winger in the defensive zone. He’s earned the chance to play more minutes. Weise played 3:56 on Friday night, while Raymond played close to 17 minutes.
3) Split up Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa
This pairing isn’t working. It never has worked. It never will work. Two defensemen prone to mental errors and who like to gamble with and without the puck generally won’t work well together (cough, OT winner last night).
Garrison and Hamhuis had their worst game as a pairing on Friday night in a long while, but they play extremely tough minutes and are expected to drive play forward to boot. And they have to contend with the sasquatch (also known as Brent Burns) down low most of the time. The Chris Tanev ankle sprain has really put the Canucks in a bind, as it is tough to come up with reasonable pairings using Edler, Garrison, Alberts, Ballard, and Corrado (oh, and Barker too, I guess).
Tanev is making the trip to San Jose. If he is ready to go, you put Edler with Tanev on the second pairing, and put Garrison with Frankie Corrado on pairing three. Alberts was atrocious in Game 2, and Ballard won’t see another game as a Canuck again unless the entire defensive corp breaks all of their respective limbs.
4) Feed the Beast
Ryan “the Beast” Kesler is the only chance the Canucks have at winning this series. The Sedins have been very good in the first two games, and although Kesler was killed in scoring chance differential from Game 2, he is a difference maker and proved it once again on Friday. He drew a penalty with a bit of an embellishment, he was extremely physical all game long, and the rest of the team feeds off of his energy.
I am a believer in the merits of statistical analysis, but with Kesler, you can “feel/see” the elements he brings to this team. With his gruff and fearless style of play, he is the yin to Henrik and Daniel’s yang. He is the engine that drives the bus. I realize that is a dated sports cliche, but it’s true. The Canucks are simply an above average team with good goaltending when Kesler isn’t at his best.