Canucks need Lapierre to channel his inner Malhotra

Judging by their lines at practice on Thursday, the Canucks will be loading up their second line, bumping Ryan Kesler to the wing and moving Derek Roy up to second line centre, with Chris Higgins rounding out the trio.

It’s easy to understand why: the Canucks struggled to create any sustained offensive pressure in the first game of the series. Creating a stacked top-six is a simple solution, though it remains to be seen how effective it will be. Kesler, Roy, and Higgins certainly had their moments when they were matched up during the regular season and it creates some difficult decisions for the Sharks defensively.

The only problem is what it does to the bottom half of the Canucks’ lineup. Without Roy centring the third line, that duty falls to Maxim Lapierre, who will be joined by Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond. In theory, that should be a speedy, defensively responsible line that can create problems on the forecheck, but Lapierre is coming off a fairly mediocre season.

The Canucks need more from Lapierre if they’re going to succeed in the playoffs. They need him to be an enabler. They need him to be Manny Malhotra.

A few seasons ago, Alain Vigneault made a change to the Canucks’ tactics, switching from line-matching to zone-matching. He stopped caring as much about what line or defensive pairing his players were facing and put far more emphasis on where they started on the ice.

The numbers are striking: the Sedins’ offensive zone starts went from under 60% in 2009-10 to over 70% in 2010-11 and 2011-12, coinciding with their back-to-back Art Ross victories. Instead of trying to get the Sedins out against weaker competition constantly, Vigneault focussed on getting the Sedins out in the offensive zone as much as possible.

Key to that strategy was Manny Malhotra, who acted as an enabler for the Sedins. Like some sort of faceoff-specialist Christ-figure, Malhotra sacrificed his own offensive zone starts to the Sedins and took on their defensive zone starts, allowing them to rack up points with their superior offensive skill.

Malhotra’s offensive zone starts went from 45.3% in 2009-10 with the San Jose Sharks, to 25.0% in 2010-11 with the Canucks and all the way down to 13.2% in 2011-12. That’s just at even-strength, not including all the defensive zone faceoffs he took on the penalty kill.

This extreme usage was unprecedented and had a major impact on Ryan Kesler’s offensive game as well, relieving him of many of his defensive responsibilities and allowing him to focus on scoring goals. He scored a career-high 41 goals in 2010-11, partly thanks to getting moved to the first unit on the powerplay and partly because he wasn’t the Canucks’ top defensive centre any more. Ironically, he won the Selke.

Unfortunately for both Malhotra and the Canucks, a brutal eye injury ended his 2010-11 season early, sending the Canucks into the playoffs without their enabler.

That’s when Maxim Lapierre stepped into the breach. Acquired at the trade deadline in 2011, Lapierre briefly centred the third line during the regular season in Malhotra’s absence, but soon lost the trust of Vigneault and was demoted to the fourth line.

In the playoffs, however, Lapierre stepped up his game. It was particularly noticeable in the second round against the Nashville Predators, when Lapierre soaked up the bulk of the defensive zone starts, freeing up Kesler to unleash his inner beast and dominate the Predators to the tune of 5 goals and 11 points in 6 games.

In the first round against Chicago in 2011, Kesler was constantly matched up against Jonathan Toews, battling him to a standstill as Toews was held to just one goal in the series. While the Predators’ paucity of offensive firepower certainly helped, it was Lapierre that stepped in to take the bulk of the defensive zone faceoffs and zone starts so that Kesler didn’t have to do it.

Malhotra returned in 2011-12, albeit in a more limited role. Still, he soaked up defensive zone starts while taking the shortest shifts in the NHL and the Sedins continued to benefit. Kesler, however, had to take up more of the defensive burden again, partially explaining his drop in goals and points that season.

With Kesler moved to the wing and Roy in the middle of the second line for game two against the Sharks, it looks like the defensive burden will be lifted from Kesler once again, which means that the third line will have to play a distinct checking role.

Now, however, the Canucks are without Malhotra, who was permanently pulled from the lineup because of concerns about his vision endangering him on the ice. This means that the Canucks are missing a reliable, defensive centre who can win faceoffs and move the puck out of the defensive zone. That is, unless Lapierre can do the job.

Kesler took 13 defensive zone faceoffs in game one, more than the rest of the Canucks combined. Henrik took the second most with 5. Lapierre took just one defensive zone faceoff and went 1-for-6 in total. He needs to be significantly better in game two.

The Canucks need Lapierre to fill the same role he did in 2011, the thankless job of grinding out shift-after-shift in the defensive zone, in hopes that the top two lines can reap the rewards in the offensive zone.

Tags: , , ,

8 comments

  1. kenahora
    May 3, 2013

    Unless the Canucks go to the greasy areas and obscure the sight lines of the opposing goaltender…which they ….other than Burrows who always does….this is gonna be an very short season.
    The Canucks shoot from the perimeter … unwilling to penetrate the tight areas. Deflections count too. Stop blaming each other. THE MEDIA IS GOOD AT THAT..!

    It’s common sense. No allowance for rear admirals.

    LOOK AT ALL THE REPLAYS FOR GOODNESS SAKE.

    Will this team EVER learn.
    AND PLEASE AQUILINI….SELL TICKETS NOT TO THE DEADBEATS WHO ATTEND THE GAMES.THESE PEOPLE ARE 9N MEDICATION…UNWILLING TO MAKE NOISE AND STAND …HOLLERING TILL THEIR VOICES ARE ACHING.
    LET THEM GO TO AN NBA OR NFL or NHL CHICAGO GAME TO LEARN HOW TO CHEER.

    THE ONLY PLACE THESE SLUGS GO when out of town IS TO THE BUFFETS 8N BELLINGHAM

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 8 votes)
    • Zach Morris
      May 3, 2013

      I somehow feel managingan NHL team is harder than you let on, else we’d all be employed

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +5 (from 9 votes)
  2. Matt
    May 3, 2013

    There’s a mistake in here:

    “The numbers are striking: the Sedins’ offensive zone starts went from under 60% in 2009-10 to over 70% in 2010-11 and 2011-12, coinciding with their back-to-back Art Ross victories. Instead of trying to get the Sedins out against weaker competition constantly, Vigneault focussed on getting the Sedins out in the offensive zone as much as possible.”

    The back-to-back Art Ross trophies came in 2009-2010 (Henrik with 112) and 2010-2011 (Daniel with 94). The Sedins were point-a-game players in 2011-2012 and Malkin won the Art Ross.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
    • Daniel Wagner
      May 3, 2013

      Ugh, that’s what I get for writing late at night. Brain cramps.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  3. Mack
    May 3, 2013

    I hate hate hate these line combinations. Bottom two lines are going to get shredded. I love Lappy, but he’s going to get it handed to him by Pavelski. They needed to acquire another C for this to work.

    I want to see something like this for the top 9: Sedin/Sedin/Kassian, Raymond/Kesler/Burrows, Higgins/Roy/Hansen. There’s some good balance there I think. That 3rd line was great in the few games they played together, and there hasn’t been that much of a drop off when Kassian’s replaced Burrows on the top unit. If anything it could be better for him since it’s less time for him to spend in the defensive zone. Kesler needs one of Burrows or Higgins so he doesn’t have to carry his line, and I’d be more willing to split up the twins and Burrows than Higgins and Roy at this point.

    No way it happens since AV has his own ideas, but sounds better than anything we’ve seen so far.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
    • Phileo99
      May 3, 2013

      Funny, I was thinking the same line combos as well. Kess/Burr was proven in the Chicago series, Roy/Higgins chemistry was proven this year, and all that remains is to see if Kassian can re-discover his 5-goal magic chemistry that he had w/ the Sedins at the beginning of this season

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  4. Sedinous Pedant
    May 3, 2013

    Hi Matt glad you picked up the error in the Art Ross seasons for the Sedins.

    But sadly there’s also an error in your post. Specifically, Daniel won the Art Ross Trophy in 2011 with 104pts, not 94.

    Yours pedantically,

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  5. Rituro
    May 3, 2013

    Love that pic of Lappy giving the hungry death-stare to the puck.

    “I CAN’T DECIDE WHETHER TO EAT IT OR DESTROY IT.”

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)