Kassian gets a turn with the Sedins
Enigmatic 22-year-old doesn’t have a shot — or a clue, yet
GLENDALE, Ariz. — John Tortorella doesn’t know what he may have in Kellan Lain. He thinks he knows what he has in Zack Kassian and would like to know if that was the real David Booth who was the Vancouver Canucks’ best player Wednesday in Anaheim and looked good again on Thursday.
At the end of a telling three-game road trip, the Canucks coach knows this much. He would prefer to ride his horses, and while size matters in the NHL, the recalled 6-foot-6 Lain didn’t play against the Phoenix Coyotes in a 1-0 loss. He was here for roster depth in back-to-back games.
It was more about redemption for the veteran core. And with Alex Burrows returning Saturday from a broken jaw, Lain could get a look Saturday because Mike Santorelli left the rink with his right arm in a sling and may have a shoulder injury.
The only guarantee seems to be that the mercurial Kassian will continue to excite, frustrate and test the patience of his coach.
Three 10-minute misconducts in the first two games of this road trip speak of unbridled enthusiasm to be a physical and irritating presence. They also speak of not understanding there’s a time and place for the game within the game when it comes to running at the opposition and running off at the mouth.
Not every misconduct was a total miss-step, and the one Kassian received Monday for pushing and shoving said more about the officiating than the player. It’s why Tortorella bristles when it’s constantly suggested that Kassian would be the right physical fit with Henrik and Daniel Sedin — a budding forward who teased in that role last season.
On Wednesday, he went smartly to the net to bang in a rare power-play goal after Booth drove there with a power move. On Thursday, he drew a penalty and took a minor.
“Everybody wants to put him in the forefront and give him all these minutes and play him on the top line,” said Tortorella. “He’s a 22-year-old kid who doesn’t have a clue with what to do in certain situations. Does he have an upside? Absolutely. There are some things that are really intriguing about him, but he’s going to do through the process and we’re going to try and do it the right way because we feel that is what’s best for him.”
In a 1-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday, Kassian didn’t have a shot, even though he saw a few third-period shifts with the Sedins when the Canucks were struck by injury.
“I’m not going to make a big deal out of playing with the twins for three or four shifts because we had some key guys go down,” said Kassian. “We’ve taken steps in the right direction in sticking together as a team, but you need to put pucks in the net. The whole team needs to dig deep. It’s clearly not good enough.
When Tortorella was hired by the Canucks, one of his biggest curiosities was Kassian. He heard about the hulking 2009 first-round draft pick who would play well one night for the Buffalo Sabres and then disappear. He had heard about his struggle to be the consummate professional on and off the ice and the constant comparisons to Cody Hodgson in the multi-player February 2011 swap. Most of all, he heard about untapped potential. Against Pittsburgh on Jan. 7, he had a goal and an assist and six hits. He looked engaged.
“He played outstanding, but it can’t be one in seven games,” added Tortorella. “It’s not a criticism of him. I want to be careful in the development of a kid and I don’t care who he was traded for or what draft pick he was. That doesn’t come into my thinking at all.”
The slippery slope for Tortorella and his players is to push the pace, initiate and frustrate without drawing the ire of the referees. But those 109 combined penalties minutes Monday and 104 on Wednesday — including strange aggressor calls and banishments — had Tortorella biting his tongue because he wants aggressiveness to be a staple of his club’s game. The 9-1 thrashing in Anaheim was fuelled by six power-play goals and a 5-on-3 power play for seven minutes to finish that game.
“I don’t want to get myself in trouble; I don’t think we handled things the wrong way,” Tortorella said of all the penalties in the Ducks outing. “If a little common sense came into play, it wouldn’t have turned in to what it did. I don’t think either team wanted to play the game the way they did. I thought Anaheim showed class and with a little bit of common sense (from the refs), both teams get out of there. We know we’re done and (the Ducks) know we’re done and they just wanted to finish the game the proper way.
“We make our bed, but we certainly got some help along the way with it, too.”
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