The Vancouver Canucks made some important progress in their 3-2 win Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. No, I am not talking about avoiding an “own goal,” although it was nice to see the other side victimized by similar misfortune this time. The best news for Vancouver was the emergence of the Canucks’ second line, spurred by the addition of Henrik Sedin to the struggling (at least in the scoring department) Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins pairing.
Vancouver managed to score two goals after making the switch, with Daniel staying with Mike Santorelli and adding Jannik Hansen. Although it is not necessary to make such a switch permanent, the jolt it created was similar to the effect created against Calgary earlier in the year, when the break up of the twins also resulted in a comeback victory.
Second Line Success
One of the chief concerns with Vancouver in the young season was the lack of success of the Kesler line. The Sedins had been producing well, and Mike Santorelli had emerged add as a nice complement to Daniel and Henrik on the top line. But Kesler had only managed one goal so far in the season (and no assists) and Higgins was mired in a long scoring drought. The lack of secondary scoring was one of the chief concerns coming into the season, and in two convincing losses to the San Jose Sharks, the lack of scoring depth was a primary problem.
Thankfully for Vancouver fans, both Kesler and Higgins broke their droughts against the Flyers. Kesler scored a first period goal that was created by a puck taking bad bounce off the end boards and eluding Philadelphia goaltender Steve Mason, resulting in an easy tap in for the Canucks center. Kesler was actually on the ice when the puck went into the net, unlike Lars Eller on the bad bounce goal tallied by Montreal last Saturday. Kesler was rewarded for going to the net, despite the fluky nature of the goal.
Kesler and Higgins then each scored in the third period after Henrik joined their line. Higgins’ goal was especially typical of a Sedin-like goal, with Henrik threading a pass from behind the net to Higgins, who then banged it home. The play was also significant for Henrik, as the assist was the 800th career point in his storied career.
Kesler and Higgins have been taking a lot of shots, and this game was no different, with Kesler leading the team with six shots on goal and Higgins the next highest among forwards with three.
The scoring of the top lines was augmented by strong work in the face off circle. Kesler won 13 of 17 draws and Henrik was almost as good, winning 12 of 17. The success in the circle helped Vancouver with its puck possession and limited the scoring opportunities for the Flyers, who mustered only 22 shots on goal.
Third Line Reshuffling
While the top two lines were productive, the new incarnation of the third line still has some work to do. Jordan Schroeder made his return to the lineup after suffering a fracture in his foot when blocking a shot in the preseason. Schroeder returned to the lineup after only one practice, so it was not unexpected that he would have a bit of a slow start. Schroeder managed one shot in 10:52 of ice time in his season debut.
Schroeder was flanked by David Booth and Zack Kassian in this game, a combination that has potential going forward. Schroeder is a strong playmaker with great speed, Booth has some goal scoring skills and is also a good skater, and Kassian provides more of a power forward presence. Given that this was the first time these three worked together, it is not surprising that Coach John Tortorella limited their ice time to 10-12 minutes, but hopefully they can become more productive after a little time practicing and playing together on the current road trip.
It is critical for Vancouver to get some productivity out of the third line. The Corsi numbers thus far have been very telling. “On-Ice Corsi” measures the difference in shots taken (goals, shots on goals, missed shots, blocked shots) versus shots allowed while a player is on the ice. After Tuesday, the Canuck forward with the best Corsi differential is Henrik Sedin, followed by Daniel and Higgins. Hansen, Kesler and Santorelli also have a positive number. On the other hand, Booth, Brad Richardson, Kassian, Weise, Tom Sestito and Zac Dalpe all have negative numbers.
The bottom line for the bottom six is that they have to be more productive when they are on the ice in order to give Tortorella the confidence to play them more and to take some of the pressure off the top six. The bottom six may also get a boost when Alex Burrows returns and one of the current top six forwards drops in the lineup.
A coach only has so many arrows in his quiver to improve his team’s performance once a game starts. He can limit ice time and mix up the lines, both of which Tortorella is know for employing liberally. It does not seem likely he will split the Sedins up on a full time basis, as the twins are simply too good together to leave apart for long periods of time. But they have also shown they can be successful apart, most dramatically in 2009-10 when Daniel was injured for 19 games and Henrik soared to the Art Ross and Hart trophies. Ben Kuzma reports that the split up lines are practicing together Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s game against Buffalo. So who knows how long Tortorella will continue with the hot hand?
Creating a boost for his team by splitting the Sedins is something Tortorella will do when needed, but Canucks’ fans can hope that the team will be productive enough that this move becomes an infrequent necessity. A more productive third line will help prevent the Sedin breakup from occurring as often, saving it for more dire situations.