A little more western swing for you as the Habs finish their western swing in Vancouver Saturday night against the Canucks who, with 92 points, are second in the West, a point behind the Blues.
The Canucks are coming off a 3-2 win over the Jets Thursday, a game in which they took 45 shots (their season high) to Winnipeg’s 32, but weren’t as dominant as that might indicate. It was a close game until a goal by Sami Pahlsson, his first tally in a Canucks sweater, sealed the deal with less than six minutes left in regulation. (By the way, the Vancouver papers spell his “Sammie,” perhaps to distinguish him from Sami Salo, although it’s also been spelled “Sammy” at times during his career. Perhaps Boone can get to the bottom of this.)
It was a pretty slick play that showed how good the Canucks can be.
But the Canucks haven’t been at their very best recently. They’ve gotten only six of a possible 12 points after stretch during February in which they picked up 18 of a possible 22.
Some of the focus for the flat play lands on the Sedin twins. Daniel has no points in his last four games and only one assist in his last seven. Henrik has no points in those seven games. They were broken up briefly as coach Alain Vigneault reconfigured his lines, but they were back together last night but didn’t produce much.
The twins could both finish the season averaging less than a point a game for the first time in four seasons. This dry spell has The Vancouver Sun asking in a readers’ poll question if the Sedins, at age 31, are on the downside of their NHL careers (and the readers overwhelmingly say no).
Not everyone is struggling. Chris Higgins, who’s finally feeling better after an illness, has six points in the last six games. Kevin Bieksa has five points in the last four games. But many Canucks are straining to score.
No one has said it yet, but if things continue this way, the trade of Cody Hodgson for Zach Kassian could be the subject of second-guessing. Hodgson may have been considered miscast as a third liner, but he was fourth in goals on the Canucks with 16.
Kassian’s toughness is thought to be a missing ingredient for Vancouver and his offensive upside has some comparing him to Milan Lucic. After impressing in his first couple of games for the Canucks, his inexperience was more on display, reminding everyone that Hodgson is a more finished product.
The Canucks have gotten very good goaltending from Cory Schneider, not as good from Roberto Luongo, who will face Canadiens on Saturday. In his previous two starts, the Montreal native was pulled after five minutes, having surrendered three goals on seven Sabres shots, and gave up four in a loss to Dallas.
Vancouver’s power play has been sputtering for two months. Since Jan. 9, they’ve gone 8-for-69 on the power play for a conversion rate of just 11.6 per cent. In their first 42 games, they went 41-of-168 on the power play for a success rate of 24.4 percent. They were first in the league at that time, now they’re third.
Vigneault experimented with some new looks with the extra man on Thursday. On the first power play unit, he shifted Ryan Kesler from his usual net-front job to the point alongside Alex Edler, inserting Alex Burrows in front to play down low with the twins and moving Salo (is that “Sammie” Salo?) to the second unit.
Their penalty kill has fared better that the PP, 6th in the league (86.8 percent), although on the road they’re better on the PK than at home.
It’s all relative. Canadiens would be happy with the most of the problems the Canucks have.
With Vigneault returning his forwards to their more familiar lines, here’s how Vancouver could line up Saturday night:
Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows
Chris Higgins, Ryan Kesler, David Booth
Mason Raymond, Samuel Pahlsson, Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra, Max Lapierre, Zack Kassian
Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler, Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani, Chris Tanev