VANCOUVER — On a night when it seemed like the best scoring chances for the Vancouver Canucks went to Andrew Alberts, you were left considering what this team still needs to become a genuine contender for the big prize they hunger for.
To begin, you would have to say they still need what was needed when the season began, a third-line centre. The little push given by Jordan Schroeder when he first arrived is beginning to dissipate as the season wears on, and there is considerable doubt as to whether he could be the third-line pivot on any successful playoff team the way the west is officiated in the most important games of the season.
While he's still young and may one day grow into a regular spot, for the moment the Canucks are faced with either going small and not overly effective on that third line or using Max Lapierre there and groping for a fourth-line centre — neither option likely to be great in the second season.
Schroeder's line was caught somewhat up the ice on Antoine Vermette's killer goal in the third period Tuesday night, as one of the endless 'checking' teams which inflict themselves on the west and are likely to appear in the playoffs came in and bored everyone with their 4-2 victory.
The Canucks seem to have an excess of solid wingers which leaves them the envy of many squads in the NHL; but after Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, who showed again last night he's still a formidable player even while trying to come back from a series of injuries, there isn't a lot in the way of offensive thrust in the middle throughout the rest of the organization.
The excess of wingers mentioned above brings you to the Zack Kassian problem. As it stands at this point, he's simply not playing enough — unless you consider 6:52 on the fourth line sufficient for a guy who was tied for the club lead in goals until last weekend. While he was a star on the top line with the Sedin twins and has looked promising at times alongside Ryan Kesler, he was minus-2 last night in the few moments he played with Lapierre and Dale Weise, leaving you wondering what kind of player they expect him to be.
If they want a Milan Lucic, don't play him like Guillaume Desbiens. He's big, he can skate and handle the puck, pass and handle the heavy going, yet the team seems to prefer the struggling David Booth or steadier but more predictable Jannik Hansen in the offensive situations. But the great Dane's always invaluable contributions to this team have almost always come from his gritty work on the third line, not playing alongside Henrik and Kesler.
And who knew Kevin Bieksa was this valuable? While there are no end of people who seem to find fault with the fellow, the moment he took his leave from the back end with this groin problem it's been a fire drill on one of the best back ends in the league.
He's expected back soon, which is encouraging, but life with just two right-handed defencemen isn't the best situation either. It seems they can manage quite nicely when both Bieksa and fellow right-handed shot Chris Tanev are healthy, but all bets are off when one of them is unable to play.
If you are to believe him, the blame for all this, as well as Tuesday night's loss, was on Cory Schneider, the goalie also accepting blame for all tsunamis, meteorites and the earthquake in Haiti.
“I don't care whether it's a night of 10 breakaways or 20 shots, I have to find a way to get back to one- or two-goal nights,” said Schneider. “I just have to find a way to make that one more save, to get this team to overtime or win a game 2-1. I have to be better.”
So does most everyone else at this point, and not just the players.
“This is a team game and we need to score more than two goals and we need to do a better job of defending,” said Alain Vigneault, lifting any blame from Schneider's shoulder despite his selfless and commendable effort to shoulder it all.
And while fatigue from all this travel also likely played it's part last night, it is a team game, from top to bottom, and at some point you would expect some roster adjustments to improve this group's chances of post-season success.
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