In mid-March 2011, the Canucks were 45-16-9, defeating the Calgary Flames 4-3 (after being down 2-0 after 4 minutes of play). While still sitting in second place in the Western Conference, the Canucks currently have a record of 42-19-8, following a 4-1 defeat by the Montreal Canadiens on March 11, 2012 (despite leading 1-0 after 12 minutes of play). So far in March, the Canucks have 3 losses and 2 wins, not a great lead-up to the playoffs by any means.
Undoubtedly the slump in first line scoring, especially with the Sedins, has had a big effect on the winning ways of the Canucks. Henrik Sedin is currently point-less in eight games and goal-less in 10 games with Daniel Sedin point-less in five games and goal-less in eight. Not everything can be attributed to the Sedin slump however, the major line-up differences between the Canucks of March 2011 and March 2012 are shown below.
Vancouver Canuck Lines- March 12, 2011 vs Calgary Flames (changes in bold)
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Mickael Samuelsson
Jannik Hansen-Manny Malhotra-Raffi Torres
Jeff Tambellini-Maxim Lapierre-Chris Higgins
Dan Hamhuis-Christian Ehrhoff
Chris Tanev-Keith Ballard
Aaron Rome-Sami Salo
Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Tanner Glass, Rick Rypien.
Vancouver Canuck Lines- March 11, 2012 vs Montreal Canadiens (changes in bold)
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
David Booth-Ryan Kesler-Chris Higgins
Mason Raymond-Sami Pahlsson-Jannik Hansen
Maxim Lapierre-Manny Malhotra-Zack Kassian
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler-Sami Salo
Chris Tanev-M.A Gragnani
The goaltending situation has not changed since last season and with Cory Schneider not being moved at the deadline, the quality back-up will remain in Vancouver until at least the end of the season, continuing one of the best netminder tandems in the NHL. Luongo currently has a 2.43 GA average in 48 games played and Schneider with an even better 2.09 in 26 games.
On the blue-line, the biggest change between 2011 and 2012 is the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, who up until March 12, 2011 had a total of 30 points and finished the season 5th in team scoring, above first-liner Alex Burrows by two points. Alex Edler (who was injured this time last season) has 10 more points than this time last year, absorbing some of the Ehrhoff loss but there is no doubt the Canucks miss the German power-play specialist, who was released in favor of Kevin Bieksa last summer.
Besides Ehrhoff, the rest of the blue-line looks similar to last season (and less injury plagued at this point). If anything, the defence may have improved in depth with the addition of Marc-Andre Gragnani, acquired as part of the Kassian-Hodgson trade. Chris Tanev has spent most of the season in the AHL developing his game and will be an important part of the blue-line when the playoff’s arrive, with a little more experience than last season.
On the forward line, the first grouping of the Sedins with Burrows remains unchanged, though there has been evidence recently of Alain Vigneault being willing to split them up if the twins do not increase their point production. The addition of hard-hitting Zack Kassian may play a role in the playoff’s, especially if he is given a chance to play with the Sedins and uses his body and strength to keep the opposition away from the twins, allowing them to get on with their game.
The second line seems to have improved, with the Canucks finally acquiring a power forward in David Booth to play along-side Ryan Kesler. While Samuelsson’s experience will be missed, Booth seems to fit in to the squad already and will be expected to have high point production on the second line during the playoff’s. Mason Raymond seems to have lost favor with both the coaching staff and the fans and the speedy winger will be excepted to play in the bottom six with Chris Higgins moving upwards, now that he has recovered from his staff infection.
The loss of Raffi Torres and his toughness has had an effect on the Vancouver team but fans are hoping that Zack Kassian can fill in the gap and provide the necessary toughness without the penalty minutes that Torres was known for, though that is a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of a 21-year-old that was still learning his game in the AHL just a few months ago. The Canucks could have used the presence of Cody Hodgson on the third line though the addition of fellow centre-man Sami Pahlsson and his 750+ NHL game experience has cushioned the loss slightly.
Overall, it seems the forward group has improved with the addition of David Booth, Zack Kassian and Sami Pahlsson over Mikael Samuelsson and Raffi Torres of last season, though the Hodgson factor is yet to be explored.
The main issue for the Canucks remains replacing the point-production of Christian Ehrhoff and while Vancouver have some good depth players on the blue-line, someone besides Alex Edler needs to jump in and score the points especially on the power-play, which may be put on the shoulders to the aging Sami Salo or the newly acquired Marc-Andre Gragnani. Despite the loss of some blue-line point production, once the Sedins regain their scoring touch, the Canucks look in a good position to repeat the success of last season and hopefully take it one step further.