Bottom part of Vancouver lineup still a work in progress
Sedins and Bieksa's blue-line brigade remain core part of Canucks' stronghold
Injuries, suspensions, late roster shuffles, new coaches, new systems and a familiar face in goal. The Vancouver Canucks have both a new and old look to open their 2013-14 National Hockey League season.
The additions this week of forward Zac Dalpe and defenceman Ryan Stanton have left Vancouver’s hockey media in full speculation about line combinations and defensive pairings, especially in the lower half of the lineup.
New head coach John Tortorella wasn’t handing it out either and appears to be heading into regular-season mode. Following Tuesday’s practice, he twice repeated that he was “not sure” what the Thursday opening-night lineup is “going to look like, going to be.”
(During the pre-season, the information from Tortorella was free-flowing.)
So although we may not be certain who will skate alongside who, we do know the identity of the 23 men on the opening-night roster.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown:
Roberto Luongo was No. 2 last season but he’s back to being No. 1 with the startling draft-day trade of Cory Schneider to New Jersey. Luongo is more than capable of assuming his role as an elite netminder and he will be motivated to prove it. As well, he wants to demonstrate to Steve Yzerman, general manager to Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team, that he deserves to be on the 2014 Sochi team. That’s good news for the Canucks.
The scary part is backup Eddie Lack. The lanky Swede is coming off major hip surgery, doesn’t have a single minute of NHL regular-season action on his resumé and his numbers during pre-season were not stellar either. In 160 minutes, he allowed 11 goals while posting a 4.13 GAA and .879 save percentage.
The Canucks have 17 back-to-backs this season and Lack is going to have to play in some of them. That will be interesting.
The Canucks appear to have a solid top five in Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Jason Garrison, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev but it’s scary beyond them. Yannick Weber, waiver pickup Stanton and Andrew Alberts comprise the bottom three and one of them will play. If any of the top five gets injured, then two will play. That’s not the most comforting of thoughts based on pre-season performances.
Alberts struggled throughout the pre-season while Weber was up and down, showing well at the offensive end (four points in five games) but looking lost at times behind his own blue-line. In one forgettable pre-season game against the Sharks, he was on the ice for four goals against. Stanton, meanwhile, is a complete mystery: he’s appeared in one NHL regular-season game.
Tortorella and assistant Mike Sullivan, the latter assigned the task of handling the defence, may find themselves deploying the top five on many nights, or maybe even just the top four.
One thing seems certain: Garrison and his howitzer of a slapper will see a lot more first-unit power play time than the old coaching regime gave him.
Another thing seems uncertain: Can Edler continue to impress Torts during the regular season as he did during the pre-season?
The Canucks will put four lines on the ice to start the season. But will they actually be a four-line team? Hardly. They have two solid units but the other two are a jumble of bodies without any proven chemistry. The betting here is that Tortorella will be experimenting and shuffling and moving bodies in and out for weeks on end.
Zack Kassian will be back from his suspension by Game 6 and Jordan Schroeder’s fractured ankle should be healed up by mid-to-late October, which will give the coach more options.
Based on Tuesday’s practice — always subject to change, of course — it appears Tortorella has settled on his lines this way:
the Sedins with Alex Burrows; Ryan Kesler between Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen; Mike Santorelli centring for
Brad Richardson and David Booth; and Dalpe with wingers Tom Sestito and Dale Weise.
While Kassian is considered a large X-factor, there are plenty of others as well. Can the oft-injured Kesler and Booth both stay healthy and return to top form? How about Daniel Sedin? His production is dropping — just 12 goals in 47 games last season — and, if Henrik is going to keep dishing the puck to him, he needs to start finishing again.
The second line, if it remains intact, lacks a true playmaker so it will have to grind for its goals or score off the rush. The third line? Ditto if Richardson remains there with Booth. Look for plenty of chip, chase and puck retrieval forays in the offensive zone rather than pretty passing play.
Dalpe admitted he hasn’t played much centre lately, or taken faceoffs, making him a total question mark. Don’t be surprised if Tortorella swaps Richardson and Dalpe before too long, with Dalpe moving to right wing and the pesky Richardson dropping down to centre a completely ornery fourth unit with Sestito and Weise. Once Kassian returns, the bottom two lines will likely get another overhaul.
Despite the Sedin twins, it’s hardly the most formidable group of forwards in the history of hockey.
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