How undermanned are the Canucks right now? When the announcement was made that Dale Weise had a shoulder injury and wouldn’t play against the Avalanche on Sunday night, it felt like a devastating blow.
Weise joined Ryan Kesler, David Booth, and Zack Kassian on the injured list. Manny Malhotra is done for the season. Steve Pinizzotto is still out with an unknown illness. Alex Edler finished of the second game off his two-game suspension. The Canucks were forced to trot out the absurd third line of Alex Burrows, Andrew Ebbett, and Keith Ballard, placing Chris Higgins with the Sedins.
Yes, Ballard once again needed to play as a forward for the ramshackle Canucks. Fortunately, they were playing the Coloardo Avalanche, the last place team in the Western Conference, who have bigger problems than having to play a defenceman as a forward: at one point in this game, they had Shane O’Brien on their first unit on the powerplay. Yikes. I felt a twinge of sympathy when I watched this game.
Canucks 3 – 2 Avalanche
I was surprised to see Burrows dropped down to the third line, but I suspect the move had a lot more to do with Higgins than Burrows. Higgins has no points in his last seven games and has been soundly outplayed by whoever he’s lined up against recently. Lining him up with the Sedins gives him more offensive opportunities and will hopefully help spark his offense. The Canucks need him to contribute more with Kesler and Booth out of the lineup. Vigneault still has plenty of faith in Higgins: thanks to time on both the powerplay and penalty kill, Higgins led all Canucks’ forwards in ice time with 20:25.
Higgins certainly seems poised to break out of his slump and didn’t look out of place with the Sedins. Early in the first, he combined with Daniel Sedin for a nice give-and-go before hitting the post. Later, on a beautiful inter-weaving play with Mason Raymond shorthanded, he hit the post again, this time with a wide open net. J.S. Giguere completely misunderstood and shouted to his teammates, “He hates these posts! Stay away from the posts!“
Jason Garrison opened the scoring on the powerplay with what might be the most hilarious goal of the season. Normally known for his slap shot that sends the puck careening towards the net at blistering speed, Garrison went with a wrist shot that deflected off Matt Duchene’s stick and began to slide agonizingly slowly along the ice, somehow evading the sea of sticks and skates to find purchase in the back of the net. It was moving more slowly than Abe Lincoln’s shopping cart and likewise went untouched. No animal crackers were injured in the scoring of this goal.
It was nice that the Canucks got another powerplay goal, and the first unit was moving the puck incredibly well in this game, but they are still painfully reluctant to actually shoot the puck. The worst example came when a wide open Daniel Sedin got a cross-ice pass from his brother, with half the net to shoot at as Giguere slid across in desperation. Instead, he sent it back across to Henrik, who had no shooting lane. Normally, I wouldn’t question his decision making, as he’s the guy with an Art Ross Trophy and 288 career goals, but Daniel has just one goal in his last twelve games. He simply cannot keep literally passing on prime scoring chances.
Daniel compounded the issue when he failed to properly cover for a pinching Cam Barker at the point, allowing P.A. Parenteau and Jamie McGinn to break out the other way. On the 2-on-1, the puck was played by Steve McQueen, as it burrowed a tunnel under Kevin Bieksa’s stick, then ramped over Cory Schneider on a motorcycle to tie the game.
I’m about ready for Cam Barker to not play for the Canucks for a while. Beyond his ill-advised pinch on McGinn’s goal, Barker got transmogrified into a turnstile by Mark Olver, Colorado’s fourth-line center, early in the second period. Fortunately for him, Cory Schneider made the save, Chris Tanev cleared the rebound, and Jordan Schroeder banked the puck out to Raymond, who went in 1-on-1 on Erik Johnson and sniped a wrist shot under Giguere’s right arm. Barker got credited with the ugliest +1 since someone brought an elephant to Nicole Richie’s wedding.
The slapped-together line of Burrows, Ballard, and Ebbett was surprisingly effective. When Ballard was on the ice, the Canucks out-shot the Avalanche 9-2, the widest margin of any Canucks skater. One particular shift in the second was notable for how Burrows and Ballard battled along the boards, keeping the puck deep in Colorado’s end of the ice, eventually forcing an icing. It was also notable for how one of the linesman continually shouted “Work it! Work it!” like a fashion photographer, while Ballard pinned the puck against the boards and vogued.
The third line also combined for the nicest goal of the night. Ballard flung the puck around the boards, where Burrows picked it up, then gave-and-went with Ebbett, before going forehand-backhand and roofing the puck over Giguere with a gorgeous finish. The trio was met at the bench with a fist-bump from Newell Brown and a smug I-told-you-so smirk from Alain Vigneault.
Schneider, in his fourth straight start, picked up his fourth straight win. While he faced just 28 shots, he still had to be sharp as the Avalanche had several nice scoring chances and a couple wild scrambles in front of the net. Like a paranoid person playing a video game, Schneider made save after save, only getting beaten by McGinn on the early 2-on-1 and by a goofy bounce off Jannik Hansen’s skate just after a prolonged 5-on-3 powerplay.
The Avalanche did their best to tie up the game in the final minute, but two nice plays by the former HamJuice pairing secured the victory. Bieksa went first, clearing a puck from the crease after a scramble in front before Parenteau could poke it in. Then, as time expired, Hamhuis laid out in front of an on-rushing Matt Duchene, taking the puck off Duchene’s stick with his entire body before he could get a shot off. Hamhuis is slicker with a slide than Derek Trucks.
After a win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Canucks are sitting in second in the Pacific and boast the division's best goal differential. That said, a big part of that goal differential comes from the Canucks' league-leading 10 empty net goals. […]