Canucks’ Zack Kassian not pouting over drought, ice time
‘It’s a matter of staying positive,’ for 22-year-old winger relegated to fourth-line duty
Vancouver Canucks winger Zack Kassian (in foreground) braces for a hit by an approaching Blair Jones of the Calgary Flames during a Jan. 23, 2013 National Hockey League game at Rogers Arena. After a hot start to the season, Kassian's output — and ice time — have tailed off of late.
Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — Slumping Vancouver Canuck winger Zack Kassian is getting a taste of life in the fishbowl of a Canadian hockey market.
After a red-hot start, he’s gone 12 games without a goal, has sunk down the depth chart to the fourth line and is minus-6 in his last seven games. He played a season-low 6:52 Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes and still managed to be on the ice for two goals against.
When things were rolling for him the first two weeks of the season, he played more than 19 minutes on three different occasions and collected his share of feel-good headlines. Now he’s finding it difficult to score from the bench, or in the penalty box, but that’s where Kassian has been for large stretches the last two games.
Surprisingly, the 22-year-old isn’t dragging his lip all over the dressing room. Maybe he’s made a few trips to the ‘mind room’ to figure things out.
“You definitely look up and say ‘geez, what did I do to you?’ but it’s a matter of staying positive,” Kassian said.
“The biggest thing is obviously not letting it affect the way you play. You don’t want to be on the ice when the other team is scoring goals no matter how they go in.
“It’s not fun. And, yeah, lately they have been going in. It’s going to happen. So it’s a matter of responding on the next shift.”
Take, for example, the Phoenix game.
Both Andrew Alberts and Max Lapierre covered Coyotes’ right-winger Nick Johnson which allowed Kyle Chipchura to walk out and roof a backhander past Cory Schneider. As the puck sailed toward the net, Kassian entered the picture, leaving the impression he didn’t do enough to stop Chipchura.
In the Detroit game, he was penalized for goalie interference and unsportsmanlike conduct in the second period and the Red Wings scored on both power plays. He also took the Canucks off the power play when he went after Jordin Tootoo following the latter’s charging penalty on Chris Tanev.
“You’re going to take penalties but you obviously try to limit the bad ones,” said Kassian, who became a Canuck on Feb. 27, 2012, in the Cody Hodgson trade with Buffalo. “You just keep moving forward and try to win hockey games. If we’re winning 3-2 and I’m not getting on the scoresheet, I’m not going to hang my head and pout because I haven’t scored in 15 games. It’s a matter of winning and everyone doing their job.”
Kassian is trying to take criticism in stride. He understands every player on the roster has his performance, in the words of Cory Schneider, over-analyzed and picked apart.
“That’s what comes along with playing in a good market,” Kassian noted. “It’s fun to play in these atmospheres. The fans are great and the city supports you. When you’re winning, it’s awesome, and obviously when you lose a couple of games, there is going to be negative press. That comes along with the job.”
Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault intends to give Kassian some benefit of the doubt. The Windsor native is in his second professional season and his size – 6-3 and 214 pounds – plus his skill set are still an enticing package to have in the lineup. Most of Kassian’s mistakes are being made behind his own blue-line.
“Zack is a 22-year-old young man,” Vigneault said, “and, yes, he had a few turnovers Tuesday. I look back at certain players and where they were at that age. I mean, Zack is in the NHL right now and every day he is on the ice with us, he’s learning through his teammates and through practices. I’m confident that he’s going to continue to get better.”
The Canucks didn’t practise Thursday so it remains to be seen whether Kassian will be moved up from the fourth line in the wake of Ryan Kesler’s broken foot.
Vancouver’s next game is Saturday at home against the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1040), who have caught fire and won five straight. The Canucks have lost two straight overall and three straight at Rogers Arena. They are 2-3-2 in their last seven.
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