AS if the Boston Bruins did not make it painfully obviously last season, the rest of the NHL was reminded on Monday night how to play the Vancouver Canucks: Target the Sedins and take any liberties you want. The rest of the team will do nothing about it.
The Bruins beat up up the Sedins and the Canucks in beating them for the Stanley Cup last season. And the Canucks, disappointingly, failed to stand up for themselves. The rest of the league took notice, and will employ the exact same tactic through the regular season from now on. The Canucks needed to send a message early this season that they will not allow that anymore, or it truly will be open season on the Sedins.
The perfect opportunity for message sending came in their mean-nothing game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night. Defenseman Marc Methot dangerously (though not sinisterly) hit Henrik Sedin from behind, injuring his leg and forcing him out of the game for a short time.
What did the Canucks do about it? Nothing.
Now in fairness both Aaron Vopatti and Kevin Bieksa skated by Methot and said something to the effect of “Please don’t do that again.” And the coaches and players will defend their actions by saying it was a close game and the two points in the standings were more important.
But in the second game of an 82 game season where the playoffs should be an easy finish, the Canucks needed to send the message to the rest of the league, and also to themselves and their fans that the failings of last year will not be tolerated. Great teams go to war for their best players, for their captain, for their one-time NHL scoring champion and league MVP.
This was a critical failing of the Canucks last spring against Boston. And judging by Monday night, it will continue to be so this season. And by not doing anything about it will undoubtedly only make things worse.
When Henrik left the ice, the arm-chair coach in all the fans undoubtedly were asking “Who will play top line center in Henrik’s absence?” Fortunately it was never an issue as Henrik returned.
But hypothetically speaking, had Henrik been out for any length of time, who would be the fill in?
Ryan Kesler is out of course, too. Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre are clearly defined as third and fourth line centers. Cody Hodgson is starting to look comfortable on the second line with Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson, so, in interests of his long term development, it would probably be best to leave him there. Off of the active roster that would leave Andrew Ebbett as the answer. The pint sized speedster was acquired in the summer but has yet to play for the team. Chris Higgins and Marco Sturm also both have experience at center, with Sturm the most likely player to get the first chance.
But how about this for answer: Daniel Sedin. He played center until he was 14, so it is not completely foreign to him. He moves the puck like a classic center, and, heck, he and Henrik are often switching spots anyways so Daniel does cover the center spot both defensively and offensively with some merit. Perhaps have Higgins or Sturm play on the wing to take the faceoffs, but Daniel might very well make a good short term fill-in.
But let’s just hope we never have to answer that question. It is a very scary thought.