Canucks get real jump from Hansen, Higgins, Raymond line
Speed, tenacity among the strengths of newly united second forward unit
Chris Higgins (left) and Jannik Hansen have formed two-thirds of the Vancouver Canucks' most productive forward unit of late, along with newly converted centre Mason Raymond.
Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, PNG files
VANCOUVER — Just the other night in Calgary, Chris Higgins looked down the bench and could have sworn linemate Jannik Hansen was taking a nap.
Who could blame him? Hansen hasn't had a whole lot of shut-eye since the premature arrival his twin boys early Sunday morning.
But he certainly hasn't been sleeping on the ice. Hansen, Higgins and newly minted centre Mason Raymond have been the best of an inconsistent bunch of Vancouver Canucks of late.
On Wednesday, before they boarded the team's charter flight to Columbus, Higgins and Raymond had plenty of props for Hansen's strong play in what have been rather stressful circumstances.
"I was pretty impressed with the Calgary game, for sure," Higgins said. "I took a look at him on the bench a couple of times and I think he was sleeping in between shifts. He gained a lot of respect from me personally in that game and then he follows it up with another fantastic game last night. I just hope it keeps going. It's been fun playing on a line with him."
"His play has been remarkable," Raymond said of Hansen. "He is seeing the ice very, very well, making plays and playing with grit and determination … right now he is making the most of his opportunities."
Hansen's goal in the final minute of the second period of Tuesday night's game against the San Jose Sharks was his third in as many games. He has five points in that stretch and lately has been using his great speed and tenacity to give opposing defencemen fits.
Off the ice, things have been more challenging. Hansen is overjoyed at being a new father, but the twin boys his wife Karen delivered on the weekend arrived early. Way early.
"Twenty-nine weeks," Hansen said. A typical pregnancy is more like 38 weeks. Little Lucas and Daniel Hansen each weighed in at about 2.5 pounds and remain in incubators. They should be fine and Hansen knows they will get terrific care in hospital.
"Obviously they are going to be in the hospital for a while, " he said Wednesday. "They were a little bit too early, so there is going to be a lot of care for them there."
That peace of mind allows Hansen to keep playing and the fact that he, Raymond and Higgins have formed such an effective on-ice partnership also helps. The trio has combined for 10 points in the last three games and helped fill the void left by the absence of second-line centre Ryan Kesler.
That goal Hansen scored Tuesday night ended what had been one of the most dominating shifts by a Canuck line this season. Along with defencemen Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison, they moved the puck around the San Jose zone for an eternity before Raymond delivered a drop-pass to Hansen, who used a Higgins screen in front to beat San Jose goalie Antti Niemi with a wrist shot.
"I was hoping for it, I was yelling for it," Hansen said of Raymond's pass. "We had a pretty good shift, a lot of rotation and it felt like San Jose was getting a little tired so we thought we could maybe take advantage of that a little bit and push them a little harder and get some chances. Fortunately enough one got by him. But if he (Higgins) is not there, it's an easy save for Niemi."
Coach Alain Vigneault has liked what he has seen from the line.
"Extremely happy," Vigneault said. "In Jannik's case and Chris's case, they are similar, they are hard-working, puck-hounding, gritty guys and Mason obviously has a little bit more skill.
"Hopefully we have got something there that we can stick with and will continue to produce for us."
Raymond is playing out of position at centre, but has not looked out of place and Vigneault has been pleased with his work in the defensive zone. The only real challenge is faceoffs, where Raymond acknowledges he is a work in progress. He won only one of seven draws on Tuesday night.
"I've said this a lot lately, but the draws are still something that I need to work on and the more that we can win those draws and help each other out the more time we are going to spend with the puck and that is when we are at our best," Raymond said.
Manny Malhotra, who was among the league's faceoff leaders when his season was shut down by the Canucks last month, is on the current road trip and will be working with Raymond during two scheduled practices while the team is out of town.
The speed of Raymond's line may be its real strength. The line is especially strong off the rush, but can also effectively cycle the puck on the boards.
"Right now we are kind of feeding off each other," Hansen said. "Sometimes we are having a good cycle, sometimes we are catching teams off the rush as well so it is a little bit of everything. And we're trying to adjust to the opponent. Obviously if it's a bigger, slower D-man we are trying to take him on the rush. If it's a smaller guy, we are trying to get it in deep and use the cycle a little bit more."
Higgins, who has points in four of the last five games, agrees that speed is a key to the line's success.
"That's one of them," he said. "But I like to think our competitiveness and our willingness to get in and win battles is another one. And we all think the game pretty well, so when you put those three things together you are going to have some good shifts."
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