Whenever a team wins the Stanley Cup, there is an inevitable copycat syndrome throughout the rest of the NHL. When the Blackhawks and the Flyers went to the Final in 2010 with bargain basement goaltenders in the same year that Jaroslav Halak went on a marvelous run for the Canadiens, the bottom fell out of the goalie market, teams with high paid goaltenders were soundly mocked, and teams looked to cheaper options in net as the key to playoff success.
One year later, two of the highest paid goaltenders in the league, Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, were facing each other in the Finals.
The Blackhawks and Canadiens didn’t seem fooled by their own goaltenders’ performances, as they said farewell to Antti Niemi and Jaroslav Halak. It took the Flyers an extra season to figure things out, but they emptied their pocketbook to sign Ilya Bryzgalov in the offseason, perhaps seeing what good goaltending did for the Bruins and Canucks.
And now, since Boston won the Stanley Cup, teams are looking to follow their example as the path to success. In particular, teams seem to be looking to follow Boston’s example when playing against the Canucks.
Honestly, every time I hear that teams are adopting the Boston model of shutting down the Canucks, I am shocked; I would have thought that a Tim Thomas trade would be bigger news.
Inevitably, however, it just turns out that they just plan on hitting the Sedins, engaging in petty behaviour after the whistle, or targeting star players with cheap shots. It seems like teams saw the Youtube videos of Brad Marchand punching Daniel Sedin and assume that this somehow constituted shutting Daniel down.
It reached its zenith when the Canucks faced the Ottawa Senators back in December, as the Senators sent out Chris Neil to run around and be Chris Neil, throwing elbows, getting in the face of the Sedins, and just generally being a nuisance. Unfortunately for the Senators, they don’t have Tim Thomas in net; they have Craig Anderson.
You’d think, perhaps, the Senators would have realized that playing physical and taking a lot of penalties wasn’t the best gameplan when the Canucks scored just 4 seconds into their first powerplay. They didn’t learn, however, taking another 4 penalties.
What was more baffling is that they kept sending Neil out onto the ice: he played a season-high 16:46, finishing with no points, 2 shots, and a minus-1.
The media bought into the hype, spotlighting Neil’s efforts throughout the game and then somehow awarding him the third star in a 4-1 loss where he had no discernible impact on the result of the game. Neil’s antics didn’t shut down the Sedins and didn’t help the Senators against the Canucks.
A more recent game seemed to better fulfill the narrative that cheapshots and bullying is the best way to beat the Canucks. The LA Kings targeted Henrik Sedin in particular and their 4-1 victory seemed to validate the widely-held belief that the Canucks simply are not tough enough. Never mind that the Canucks were absolutely terrible defensively and could barely create scoring chances; the Kings’ toughness was credited with the victory.
The fact is that almost every team in the NHL tries to play tough against the Sedins. Every team tries to take them off their game with strong physical play. It isn’t a new theory. And yet, they won back-to-back Art Ross trophies and they’re currently 2nd and 4th in league scoring.
Whatever teams are trying against them, it isn’t working. If there was a magic “stop the Sedins” button that teams could press, they would have done so already. The Bruins have one: it’s called Tim Thomas. But don’t press him or he’ll punch you. Or kiss you. Who knows, he’s unpredictable.
Henrik Sedin said it best after the game against the Kings when he was questioned whether he felt the Canucks were pushed around:
“You know what, I’m pretty tired of that question,” Henrik said. “We won the Presidents Trophy last year and went to the seventh game of the final. We didn’t lose the final because we were pushed around, we lost because we couldn’t score. We are as tough as anyone else in here, we are taking hits, giving out hits and that’s the bottom line. That’s my answer to that one.”
“We lost because we couldn’t score.” I would go one further: they lost because they couldn’t score and because the Bruins could. That may sound like a truism (the team that scored more goals won!), but hear me out. The two biggest reasons the Bruins won the Stanley Cup were the play of Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara and their impressive scoring depth. I think these two things combined taught the Canucks the same lesson.
Tim Thomas had one of the best seasons from a goalie in NHL history, if not the best. He set a new standard for regular season save percentage, won the Vezina Trophy, then posted 4 shutouts in the playoffs, including 2 in the Stanley Cup Final, winning the Conn Smythe trophy.
Meanwhile, the Norris-nominated Chara played nearly 28 minutes a night during the playoffs and was instrumental against the Sedins during the Final.
As for the Bruins’ scoring depth, it’s important to note that they lack legitimate star power amongst their forwards. During the regular season, the Bruins’ leading scorers, David Krejci and Milan Lucic, had 62 points each. They had just one 30 goal scorer in Lucic.
In comparison, Daniel Sedin had 104 points, and both he and Kesler scored 41 goals to lead the Canucks.
With the addition of Tomas Kaberle and Rich Peverley by trade, however, the Bruins had 10 different players score 40+ points. The Canucks had 6, with Raymond on the edge with 39.
Because of their depth, Boston led the league in even-strength scoring during the regular season. Even their fourth line chipped in, as Shawn Thornton had 10 goals and 20 points. With Tim Thomas anchoring their defence, people seem to quickly forget how good their offence was.
18 different players recorded points for the Bruins during the Final; that’s an entire roster minus the goalies.
As for the Canucks, once Thomas and Chara shut down the Sedins, they didn’t have anywhere to turn. Mikael Samuelsson played in only 11 games in the postseason, Raymond had his back broken, Hodgson was a rookie who appeared to be over his head, and Kesler was playing on essentially one leg. That was basically it for depth after the Sedins and Burrows. The third line of Raffi Torres, Jannik Hansen, and Maxim Lapierre did their best, as each scored 3 points in the Final, but the three players were much better at forechecking than scoring.
That’s why I find it incredibly interesting that Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault have not built this season’s version of the Canucks around toughness. While they did acquire players with size, they focussed on players with the ability to play the game.
Dale Weise scored 50 points in the AHL with Hartford in 2009-10 and 38 points in 47 games with the Connecticut Whale. Mark Mancari is 6’3″, but is known more for his scoring touch as an AHL All-Star than for his physicality. Byron Bitz has struggled with injuries in his NHL career (and again this season), but put up solid point totals playing for Cornell University in the NCAA.
Instead of toughness, Gillis and Vigneualt have improved the team’s scoring depth. Last season, the Canucks had a fairly traditional lineup: two scoring lines, a checking line, and an “energy” line. This season, their fourth line has become their checking line: Manny Malhotra, Maxim Lapierre, Dale Weise, Aaron Volpatti, and Andrew Ebbett have the lowest offensive zone start percentage in the NHL. The fourth line is starting almost exclusively in the defensive zone.
This allows the Canucks to ice three scoring lines, with Cody Hodgson as the linchpin to the entire plan. With Hodgson’s emergence and Hansen’s continued development, the Canucks have a third line capable of contributing offensively and it’s paying off.
Last season, the Canucks led the league with 258 goals. Despite losing Christian Ehrhoff, the Canucks are actually on pace to better that total by 8.
Last season, 6 players scored 40+ points for the Canucks; they have 9 players on pace for 40+ points this season, with Dan Hamhuis on pace for 38. That’s not including second-line wingers David Booth and Mason Raymond, who likely won’t reach that plateau thanks to injuries.
While the rest of the league saw the reemergence of the tough guy during the Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks saw their scoring depth falter and the Bruins’ scoring depth thrive. Rather than trying to match the goonery of the Bruins, the Canucks took steps to fix the real problem.Tags: Bruins, Canucks, Stanley Cup Final