Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
What should the Canucks do with Andrei Kuzmenko Thursday night in Dallas?
2 months ago
It’s hard to go away from a winning lineup in the NHL. And it’s even harder to go away from a lineup that won in the fashion that the Vancouver Canucks’ did against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.
But it all leaves Andrei Kuzmenko as the odd man out, no matter how controversial his benching might be.
Last season, Kuzmenko was one of the brightest spots in a terrible season, scoring 75 points and earning a two-year contract extension just a week into Rick Tocchet’s arrival as Canucks head coach. This year Kuzmenko is on pace for just 45 points, and the relationship between him and his coach seems hurtling towards irreparability.
Tocchet is unlikely to rock the boat against the Stars on Thursday. A winning lineup is the easiest argument for Tocchet to make, one he already used once last month when Kuzmenko was left in the press box for two games against the Kraken and Sharks. It took the Canucks losing to San Jose for Tocchet to bring him back in two nights later against Anaheim.
At the time, Tocchet expressed that the scratch was meant to be seen as a reset rather than a punishment. “I think he needs to get his game a little sharper. When you’re not scoring you’ve got to make sure of your details in your own end. He’s thinking too much,” Tocchet said back in November.
“There’s some systems stuff that we need to count on not just [from] him, everybody to be in these positions.”
In his last appearance against the Blackhawks, Kuzmenko played just 11 minutes of ice time and according to Natural Stat Trick, the Canucks were out-chanced 6-5 with him on the ice at even strength. He was far from the only player with a similar stat line at 5v5; Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller were both out-chanced 14-11. But they’re still getting points, while Kuzmenko posted the “Loui Eriksson special” of zeroes across the board.
If the Canucks were losing, it’d be a lot easier to make a case for Kuzmenko staying in the lineup. But the team’s success despite his struggles implies that Tocchet is pushing the right buttons. Putting Kuzmenko in for the sake of upping his value to potential trade partners doesn’t help a team currently trying to stay ahead of the Kings, Flames and Oilers in the Pacific.
Kuzmenko is guaranteed to eventually draw back into the lineup, most likely after the Canucks’ current streak of wins ends. Going back to him right now after such a big victory would be a huge vote of confidence from his coach. But until told otherwise, Tocchet’s lineup in Dallas is likely going to be Kuzmenko-less like the one in Nashville.
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