The Canucks’ defence corps is looking a little thin – there was no Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Kevin Bieksa or Frankie Corrado on the Canucks’ flight to New York on Tuesday for their first game in a five-game road trip due to injuries. Currently placed third in the Pacific Division, with one point separating them from the fourth and fifth placed teams, remaining consistent and getting some wins from now until the end of the season is important for the Canucks to enter the playoffs comfortably. With five games in the next eight days, the Canucks face off against the Rangers, Devils, Islanders, Bruins and Sabres, each for the second and last time of the 2014-15 regular season.
Leaving four defenders at home, including their best defence pairing this season of Edler and Tanev, the Canucks enter this road trip with Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, Alex Biega, Luca Sbisa, Ryan Stanton and Adam Clendening to hold the blue line. The Canucks have also called up Bobby Sanguinetti from the AHL’s Utica Comets. Edler and Tanev both missed the Canucks’ 3-2 win against the Minnesota Wild on Monday and even though they won, their absence (in particular the absence of Edler) is significant.
“Personally, I think he has been our MVP,” Burrows told The Vancouver Sun on Sunday of Edler. “He has logged so many big minutes. There are a lot of guys that have done a really good job, but for me he has been so good. He logs big minutes against the other team’s best players. He’s huge on the penalty-kill, he’s huge on our power play. He is so smooth back there and is important for our hockey team.”
However, as several of the Canucks defenders have pointed out, these next few games are opportunities for players like Weber, Sbisa, Stanton, Biega and Clendening to take on more responsibility.
“We’re getting used to this,” veteran defender Hamhuis told The Vancouver Sun. “Myself being out, Kevin (Bieksa) being out, Chris Tanev was out for a bit and now Eddie (Edler; and Tanev again). We are certainly used to playing in all situations, all pairings on the back end. It’s a chance for some guys that have been playing more limited roles to step up and take those minutes.”
Having several defenders who are capable of playing in a variety of situations with different defence partners will be valuable going into the playoffs and in special teams situations. The Canucks are not going to be able to depend on the same few star players all the time. To have success, the Canucks need to be strong as a team. This road trip is a chance for these defenders to prove that they are as versatile, flexible and dependable as Hamhuis says they are.
The first game of this road trip against the New York Rangers on February 19th will be big, especially for the defence. In their first meeting against the Rangers on December 13th, the Canucks lost 5-1 in a game riddled with bad pinches by Canucks’ defenders in the offensive zone that led to countless odd man rushes (which in turn led to goals) for the Rangers. It was, in captain Henrik Sedin’s words, “embarrassing.” On Thursday against the Rangers it will be up the Canucks’ defenders to make smart decisions in the offensive zone to hold off odd man rushes.
As well, goals were scarce last time the Canucks played the Rangers (a point in the season when many players were struggling to score), with the Canucks only able to notch one goal. Lately however, the Canucks have seen offensive contributions from all four lines, from veterans Daniel Sedin and Vrbata to rookies Bo Horvat and Ronalds Kenins.
The Canucks have beat the other four teams they will face on this road trip already this season (the Devils, Islanders, Bruins and Sabres). Ryan Miller had a shut out in a 2-0 win against the New Jersey Devils on November 25th. On January 6th back-up goalie Eddie Lack had a win against the New York Islanders. Radim Vrbata, who leads the Canucks in goals, did not play that game, and all the goals came from players who were in the midst of goal droughts: Stanton, Nick Bonino and Linden Vey. Later in January the Canucks’ beat Miller’s previous team, the Buffalo Sabres, 5-2. Recently, on February 13th, the Canucks had another 5-2 win, this time against the Boston Bruins. It was Shawn Matthias’ best game of the season, as he scored his first NHL hat trick.
This road trip may only last just over a week, but it is full of opportunities – opportunities to rebound from bad losses, opportunities for players to take more responsibility and opportunities for players to prove they are dependable. But with these opportunities comes lacklustre defence pairings and the amounting pressure that leads up to the playoffs. It may be a short road trip in comparison to others, but it will be a battle.
“I think its (the injuries) brought us together in some ways because guys realize that we just need every guy,” head coach Willie Desjardins told TSN. “We can’t afford one guy’s not playing.”
“We gotta battle until we get everyone back healthy.”