It is like the hockey version of Freaky Friday. Ryan Kesler and his “all-American” line have switched bodies with the Canucks’ top line, starting to show some life and provide the fire once provided by the Sedins. The Canucks’ top line of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows has stopped producing, taking on the role of a typical second or even third line.
For most of the winter the Sedin twins were at the top of the scoring race, while Ryan Kesler struggled to produce goals. However, ever since Chris Higgins was moved back onto the second line with Kesler and David Booth two games ago, things have changed. Kesler scored a rare shorthanded goal against Winnipeg and then provided the only spark of life seen from the Canucks against Montreal on Saturday when he scored the opening goal.
The Canucks’ second line now looks fast and threatening. Booth has incredible speed, and can often be seen skating circles around everyone. He gets lots of chances, but often struggles with finishing them off. Higgins is fast as well, and could probably benefit from and get more chances by playing with Kesler and Booth. The Canucks need these three to play well, especially Kesler. The team’s struggling powerplay could probably benefit from a better, faster, stronger Kesler as well.
Before head coach Alain Vigneault placed Higgins with Kesler, he tried putting newcomer Zack Kassian on the second line for a game which, to put it nicely, did not work. Kassian needs to prove that he can perform well on the fourth line before playing on the second with Vancouver’s superstars.
As for superstars, the Sedins have looked far from superstar material over the past eight games. They have one point between them, as they both have struggled to get scoring chances and produce goals. This is Henrik’s longest no point streak in ten years.
“Anytime that your best players aren’t giving a top performance, obviously there’s a level of concern,” Vigneault told Canucks.com. “Not sure if we’re tired physically or mentally, but if that’s the case what we can do is eliminate the excuse and we’ll give our guys two days off…the most concerning thing (of the recent losses) for me is when our best players aren’t our best players on the ice.”
It seems like the Sedins are not playing hard enough, getting into the games or playing with passion. The two best playmakers in the league are having the puck easily taken away from them and are being out-skated. It seems like they are frustrated by this. In Saturday’s game against Montreal Henrik had four hits. Henrik Sedin, four hits in one game? Now that is not something you see everyday – it is not Henrik’s style of play. Hitting and responding physically are not what makes him and Daniel effective.
“I personally feel like I’m the reason they’re not producing,” the Sedin’s linemate Alex Burrows told the Vancouver Sun. “I’m in a spot where I need to score goals to help them and for some reason, I’m not finding those open areas. I take full responsibility for that.”
Burrows has not played how he normally does either, with one goal in the past 11 games. Vigneault could split up the first line to try to generate some goals, but as Kevin Bieksa stated, the entire team needs to step up.
“It’s not just going to be Kesler and twins,” he told the Vancouver Sun. “We need other guys stepping up. We consider ourselves a four-line team, six-defence team. We expect guys pitching in from all over the place, but we haven’t had it from our fourth line or third line or our back end. Nothing has been consistent. But it’s not time to push the panic button; it’s one of those lulls in the season.”
Many of the Canucks have realized their mistakes and reiterate in interviews that their slumping is normal; it is something every team goes through. However, the Sedins’ unusual struggle has lasted for a while now. Any day now they could burst through the bonds holding them down and start reappearing on the score sheet – the question is when and how.
“I haven’t lost confidence that we’re going to get out of this,” Henrik told the Vancouver Sun. “But I hope that it ends sooner.”