Sticktap to bitter rival Harrison Mooney for the image.
On the heels of two losses (although one was a functional tie, with a gimmick tacked on), the Canucks coaching staff has decided to reconfigure their forwards lines. Jason Botchford describes the new forward combinations as "radical," and he’s not far off.
Here are the new lines the Canucks are using at practice today (per Jim Jamieson):
There’s this perception that when Alain Vigneault modifies his lineup, it’s done haphazardly and at random. But I prefer to think of Alain Vigneault as an exceedingly well compensated Jugo Juice employee. Though it seems odd at first glance, there’s a method of this apparent madness.
We’ll break it all down after the jump
The first thing I notice about this new forward configuration, is that each of the top-three lines will consist of at least one player who was active and playing competitive hockey in a European league or in the AHL during the lockout. The first line will have Zack Kassian who has played nearly thirty AHL contests this season, the second line will have Hansen who lit up the SM-Liga during the lockout and the "third-line" will have Jordan Schroeder and Dutch League MVP Dale Weise who’ve been playing competitive hockey for months. I really have to think that the "rusty legs" factor is a major motivation behind splitting up the twins, and their signature triggerman Alex Burrows.
When a usually polished team like the Canucks allows a goal late in a period (like they did on Sunday) and then allow their opponent to carry play in the third period (like the Canucks also did on Sunday), you can pretty safely assume that fatigue and a lack of game readiness is, if not a primary culprit, then at least a factor. And I’d guess that part of the idea behind these new scrambled egg line combinations is to try more evenly distribute "game-ready" legs throughout the lineup.
Is that 21 year old winger Zack Kassian lining up to play big minutes on Vancouver’s top forward line? How does that make sense, when Alain Vigneault hates young players forever and ever, and sucks at developing talent because of that mistrust-y hatred?
Before the season Tony Gallagher, Dan Murphy and Bob McKenzie, three guys who know a few people in the business, all suspected that Zack Kassian would get a serious look with the Sedin twins in the early-going this season. The Canucks however, started Zack Kassian on a quickly dismantled line with Andrew Ebbett and Mason Raymond. Rather than play too many shifts with those line-mates, however, Zack Kassian bounced around the lineup a bit and looked fast, tough and dangerous in the offensive zone in the team’s first two games of 2013.
Am I crazy then, or did the Canucks just make Zack Kassian – who has battled with consistency throughout his career, and again this season in Chicago – earn a spot on the top-line? He capitalized on some lovely Sedin passing on Sunday, and fought and injured a pretty tough guy in Ben Eager. The result: Kassian gets a shot in the top-line. Well doesn’t that make a whole lot of sense.
Jordan Schroeder meanwhile, will play with Weise and Raymond on what is, at first glance, a pretty odd looking line. I’d expect that line to be sheltered situationally (why else would Lapierre and Malhotra play together if not to soak up defensive zone draws), and to play maybe a bit over ten minutes at even-strength on Wednesday against the Flames (assuming the game is competitive). It’s really not a second line, that would be Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, but it’s very probably a Cody Hodgson-era type third-line. Anyway a top-nine shot still represents a pretty big opportunity for Jordan Schroeder and it will probably come with a good long look on the power-play as well.
One more note I’d make is that in addition to his "game-ready" legs, Dale Weise will bring some much needed size to the Raymond-Schroeder line. I still think I’d rather see Schroeder play with say Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows, but this makes sense to me, especially when you consider that Raymond and Schroeder displayed some chemistry in training camp scrimmages a week ago.
While the forward lines appear to be radically altered, the defensive pairings are exactly the same: Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will stay together, Edler will continue to adjust to playing the right-side on a pairing with Jason Garrison, and Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev will round out the d-corps. If the Canucks wood with that lineup on Wednesday night, that means Alain Vigneault will have allowed Keith Ballard to have a turnover prone game on Sunday, without stapling him immediately to the bench.
Ballard has never looked comfortable in Vancouver’s system and the writing is probably already on the wall in terms of his future with the club. But he can still be useful for this season if he can figure out how to stay on the ice. Paradoxically he’ll need some rope from the coaching staff to do that…