Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few quick topics.
With all the negativity surrounding the Canucks and their five-game losing streak, particularly with how some of those games have been lost, let’s put on our rose-colour glasses and pick out some silver linings.
Zack Kassian getting a chance to emerge as a top-six forward
John Tortorella has been clear from the start of the season that Zack Kassian won’t just be given a promotion to a scoring role, but will have to earn it from the bottom up. He has thus spent the bulk of the season on the third and fourth lines, frequently playing 10 minutes or less per game.
With various players out of the lineup, however, and the team needing a spark, Kassian has recently been promoted to the second line with Ryan Kesler and it seems to be working out well. Tuesday against the Penguins was his best game as a Canuck, recording his first two-point game of the season, including a highlight reel goal on a superb backhand. More than that, he was physical, recording 6 hits, and made smart plays exiting the defensive zone and entering the offensive zone.
Of course, the knock on Kassian so far in his career has been consistency, so it will be up to Kassian to prove that he’s learned that particular lesson. And it’s clear he doesn’t quite have his coach’s trust: while he was tapped in the shootout on Tuesday, he didn’t receive a single shift in overtime, despite being one of the best Canucks on the ice.
And, since it’s required by blogger law, here’s the comparison to Cody Hodgson: despite playing significantly fewer minutes, Kassian has the same number of goals as Hodgson this season and just eight fewer assists. Frankly, given the passes that Kassian has been making, it’s astonishing that he only has three assists this season.
Tom Sestito on the power play forces first unit to simplify
I have no idea if the Canucks plan on sticking with Sestito on the power play, but it is an opportunity to maximize his strengths. Sestito has a big, opaque body that is useful for screening goaltenders and he has some reasonable hands around the net, as illustrated by his just-short-of-brilliant deke against the Penguins.
The biggest benefit to having Sestito with the first unit, however, is that it forces the Canucks to simplify. At times, it’s seemed like the Sedins have too many passing options on the power play. Combined with Dan Hamhuis being far more of a passer than a shooter, the first unit seemed to spend too much time cycling without creating scoring chances.
Switching in Sestito means there’s one less player handling the puck, meaning the Sedins will have the puck on their sticks more. It also means the Sedins have to get more creative within a simplified structure, which strikes me as being perfect for the Sedins’ style. And having Sestito as the net-front presence frees up Ryan Kesler to play at the top of the left circle, where his right-handed one-timer can come into play more frequently.
The biggest benefit, however, is that it gives a reason for Sestito to be in the lineup. Since Tortorella insists on dressing Sestito, it’s nice to have him actually be useful while he’s on the ice, though, to his credit, he’s been improving his play as a bottom-six player as well.
Four of the Canucks’ five losses came against some of the best teams in NHL
This may be cold comfort, but the Canucks have not been losing to terrible teams, though an argument could be made for the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins are the top team in the Eastern Conference by a wide margin and the Lightning are second in the Atlantic Division, just two points shy of the Bruins. Meanwhile, the Ducks are first in the NHL and the Kings, despite recent struggles, are considered one of the best teams in the West.
While the Canucks have not played particularly well of late, getting badly out-shot in their last three games, the truth remains that they’ve been in these games against top teams despite missing multiple players due to injury, including their number one defenceman, first-line winger, and number one goaltender.
It’s easy to point out the Canucks’ collapses late against the Ducks and Penguins, but the Canucks took the two top teams in the NHL to overtime and the shootout. Would it have been far better to hang on int he third period and win both games in regulation? Of course! But the fact that the Canucks were in a position to do so can still be seen as a positive.
Yeah, okay, I might be stretching a bit with this one, but fortunately there’s other good news on the horizon…
Alex Burrows one week from returning to the lineup
With both Alex Burrows and Alex Edler out of the lineup, the Canucks’ underlying puck possession numbers have divebombed in a big way, speaking to the importance of both players. Both are back practicing with the team and, while it’s unclear when Edler will return, it looks like Burrows is aiming to be cleared to play by January 18th, when the Canucks play the Calgary Flames.
While Burrows has yet to score this season, it’s hardly been due to lack of effort as he has a whopping 49 shots in 17 games without a goal. The Canucks are simply a better team when Burrows is in the lineup, as he leads the team in Corsi% and has improved the puck possession statistics of every single player he’s played with this season for more than 15 minutes of ice time.
While Burrows isn’t a magic cure-all, his presence will hopefully help to revitalize the Sedins at even-strength and will have a cascading effect on the rest of the lineup.
Mark Messier wishes he hadn’t taken the captaincy from Trevor Linden
Messier did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit on Thursday and, while most questions from Canucks fans were scrubbed from the thread, likely due to offensive content (one because the Redditor’s name was “F*** Messier” without the asterisks), he did answer one Canucks-related question.
That’s great, Mark. We still hate you. Hope you understand.Tags: spitballin