Canucks’ Bonino avoids foot fracture and could play Wednesday, otherwise Matthias will play centre

The Vancouver Canucks have caught yet another injury-related break, this time by avoiding one.

Canucks second-line centre Nick Bonino left Monday night’s 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild in the second period after blocking a Ryan Suter one-timer with the inside of his left-foot. Fortunately it would seem that Bonino’s foot was not fractured by Suter’s hard slap shot, taken from pointblank range. 

“There are no breaks,” Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said on Tuesday, adding that Bonino might even be back in the lineup on Wednesday. “We had him checked out again today.”

You can exhale, Canucks nation.

Though Bonino didn’t sustain a foot fracture on Monday night, he was absent from Vancouver’s practice in Chicago on Tuesday. We’ll know more tomorrow, but his status for tomorrow night’s game against the loaded Chicago Blackhawks would appear to be questionable.

At Tuesday’s practice the Canucks previewed what their forward lines might look like if Bonino doesn’t dress on Wednesday:

Henrik Sedin (33) wasn’t actually present at practice, but he’s expected to play on Wednesday and obviously we all know which line he’ll be on.

There are a couple of things to unpack here. The first is that you know Bonino is crucial to Vancouver’s postseason chances because without him in the lineup (and absent Brad Richardson) the club really only has two natural centremen (Sedin and 19-year old Bo Horvat). Linden Vey is far more effective on the wing, and so is Shawn Matthias, who seems likely to centre Zack Kassian and Derek Dorsett on a jumbo-sized forward line if Bonino is unavailable against the Blackhawks.

That line sounds like a nightmare to matchup against, which is superficially intriguing, but Matthias really shouldn’t be moved away from left wing. The 26-year-old forward has been a pleasant surprise for the Canucks this season, and seems to have really taken to playing along the wall rather than in the middle. Though he still has issues cutting to the net on his forehand, Matthias’ rare combination of speed, size and above average hands have given opponents fits all season. 

In fact, among the 367 forwards who have logged at least 300 5-on-5 minutes this season Matthias ranks 54th in goal scoring rate. He’s tied with Minnesota Wild star Zach Parise, and ahead of any number of NHL stars including Joe Pavelski, T.J. Oshie, and Matt Duchene. 

Best of all: this doesn’t appear to be an illusory run of good fortune. Matthias’ shooting percentage is in-line with what he’s done over his career, and his on-ice shooting percentage sits at an unsustainably low 6.44 percent. So he could be due a few fortunate bounces in the offensive end of the rink over the balance of the campaign.

Matthias has generally been an above average finisher, even if the whole ‘scoring at a first-line rate’ thing is a new trick. What’s perhaps more impressive and notable is that he appears to be having a positive impact on the possession numbers of his line-mates as a winger. Of the six forwards with whom Matthias has skated for at least 40 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, five have done better by shot attempt differential alongside Matthias than they’ve done away from him. 

Is it possible that Matthias’ game may have found a new, sustainable level at the relatively veteran age of 26? Or is this just a contract year phenomenon? I’d suggest the former is very possible, particularly because he’s switched positions. 

Goal scoring has never been Matthias’ issue, but in the past his two-way abilities as a centre were well below average for an everyday middle six forward. As a winger though, Matthias’ two-way issues are non-existent, in fact, he’s been a marginally positive contributor in helping Vancouver get the puck going in a favourable direction at 5-on-5. 

Hopefully Vancouver’s centremen can stay healthy enough to keep Matthias on the wing.

(Stats in this piece compiled from hockeyanalysis.com)

  • I think Kassian should be looking at how Matthias responded to criticism from earlier this year and follow his example. Matthias wasn’t scoring and was criticized for not being aggressive. Now, he’s trying to cut to the net with the puck and while he doesn’t score most of the time, he looks strong and deserves credit for upping his game. If Kassian could do the same thing and simply start driving more towards the net with the puck, I’m sure he’d get far more goals since he has a better set of hands than Matthias.

    • ikillchicken

      But that’s just it. Kassian is a vastly more skilled player than Matthias. That’s where I’ve gotta disagree with your suggestion. For Matthias to be an effective point scorer he does indeed need to use his size to go to the net. That’s really his only option. But this simply untrue of Kassian. Despite his size, Kassian has the hands to be a skilled, play making player and not just a net crasher.

      I mean look, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Kassian to drive to the net a bit more as well. Certainly having that in his toolbox would be a plus. But as you indicated, driving to the net is a low percentage play that doesn’t work most of the time. I’d hate to see Kassian do nothing but drive the net and throw away the puck when he can do so much more with his vision and passing ability.

      • ikillchicken

        I’m in agreement on his (physical) passing ability but I question whether he has the vision to be a playmaker. In contrast with Henrik Sedin (unfair but intentional to illustrate a point), Sedin has the ability to anticipate where goal scorers will be and then get them the puck. I really haven’t ever seen Kassian exhibit the ability to find open teammates and make those great passing plays – oh that infamous hockey IQ. Sure, you can argue that being stuck on the third line with defensive players doesn’t help but the good passes that I’ve seen him make tend to be short range cycle plays, never the “out-of-yer-seat” cross-ice feeds.