Time to break up the top line?
Recently, head coach Alain Vigneault shook up the defence pairings for the Vancouver Canucks. Perhaps it is time to shake up the forward lines as well.
The Canucks have a day off in Detroit prior to ending the road trip on Sunday, and something has to give with the forward situation.
Yes, 2-0-1 isn’t a bad record at all, but how the Canucks have been picking up points is troubling.
Over those three games, the Canucks have only scored eight goals. Kevin Bieksa (now injured) had a pair. Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Dale Weise, Jason Garrison and Alex Edler all notched single tallies.
Notice something from that list?
Half of the goals came from defenders. Of the four scored by forwards, only one came from someone (Weise) that isn’t on the top line.
The second and third lines, which should have been a source of strength with Ryan Kesler and David Booth back from injury, instead have gone silent.
The Canucks have been getting chances, so part of this is puck luck. But the other teams have been outplaying the Canucks and therefore getting more chances themselves.
Over the three-game road trip, the Canucks have been out-shot by a 92 to 77 margin, which doesn’t seem that bad. But the scoring chances have been much more lopsided, roughly 60 to 20, which is absolutely horrible.
The Canucks have played their worst hockey of the season in the defensive end on this road trip. If it wasn’t for stellar goaltending by Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, the Canucks would be lucky to have a single point, let alone five, from the road trip to date.
Chicago absolutely tore them apart, picking up odd-man rushes and clean breakaways seemingly at will.
For large stretches in Dallas and Nashville, the Canucks seemed incapable of doing anything except run around in their own end and ice the puck.
The final straw should be the Nashville game. In the first period, the Predators took it to the Canucks, out-shooting them 13 to three. Only Luongo kept them in the game.
The three shots by the Canucks? Long-range point shots by defencemen. That's right—not a single forward registered a shot in the first period.
Vigneault shook up the defence pairings after the Chicago game, and he’ll have to do so again now that Bieksa is out with a groin injury. But he really should look at shaking up the forward lines, because right now he has an All Star line with the Sedins and Burrows and nine other guys who aren’t producing.
I’m not a Jack Adams-winning coach, but I’d suggest the following lines:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Zack Kassian
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Alex Burrows
David Booth - Jordan Schroeder - Jannik Hansen
Chris Higgins - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise
Kassian was producing, and even leading the team in goals during a stint with the Sedins to start the season. It should be noted that the Sedins themselves were a bit out of sync during that period, so it wasn’t solely Kassian being the next Jason King or Anson Carter.
Putting Kassian back with the twins should help the Canucks to see exactly what they have in Kassian this year, and if they can count on him for reliable scoring. And with his hands, it shouldn’t be a drop-off in production from this line by removing Burrows.
Burrows, in turn, drops down to the second line to partner with Ryan Kesler. Likewise, Mason Raymond gets promoted to the second line as well. Burrows and Kesler have been longtime partners on the penalty kill and were very good together as a line before Burrows was promoted to being the Sedin's wingman years ago.
Likewise, the best years in terms of individual stats for both Raymond and Kesler came when they were playing together on the second line in 2010-2011 and 2009-2010.
And of course, they formed a pretty effective line in the 2011 playoffs. Right now, Raymond and Burrows are tied for the team lead in goals with five, and they might be able to spark Kesler into some production at even strength.
Should Vigneault break up the top line?
The third line should consist of fast, two-way players who should, on paper, be effective at both ends of the ice. David Booth normally would be in the top six, but he is still not quite in sync after his groin injury. Hansen and Schroeder had formed a good line with Raymond in the early going, and Booth should be able to fill that role.
The fourth line doesn’t see too many changes. They have been holding up their end of the bargain this season, doing the dirty work and even scoring the odd goal. The only real change is Chris Higgins dropping down in the lineup to take Aaron Volpatti’s spot.
Volpatti has been doing a good job this year, but right now with all the forwards healthy, someone has to sit between himself and Weise. And you don’t sit the guy who scored the game-winning goal in the last game. They'll lose a bit of toughness by sitting Volpatti, but against Detroit, that shouldn't be an issue.
Higgins and Lapierre have history together, both as Habs and as Canucks, and have been an effective tandem in the past. There isn’t any reason to think they can’t continue to be in the future with Weise on the wing, and they could even chip in the odd goal while being effective on the forecheck.
Shaking up the lines like this should be setting up everyone to be successful, and if it doesn’t work, there are always more drastic changes available if necessary.
The trade deadline is coming up fast. Also, 6’3”, 2011 first-round pick Nicklas Jensen will be soon be available for the Canucks after his season ends in the Swedish Elite League.