One can quibble with Chris Kuc’s assertion that this is a “big” change, but either way, the Chicago Blackhawks are tweaking their lower forward ranks by scratching tough winger Jamal Mayers for veteran center Brendan Morrison. Another notable alteration comes in depth defense as stable veteran blueliner Sean O’Donnell* swaps in for youngster Dylan Olsen.
On paper, these changes shouldn’t alter the balance of power. Then again, with all three games going to overtime already, it’s not crazy to say that little tweaks might make all the difference.
(Really, Brandon Saad could make the biggest impact of all the lineup tweaks, anyway.)
* – Whose name I always need to be careful in mentioning, because part of me always wants to call him Chris O’Donnell of Robin in “Batman Forever” infamy.
While Roberto Luongo’s struggles are well-documented, there is a more disturbing reality brimming underneath the surface for the Vancouver Canucks. After rolling with injury-related punches to their defensive corps time and time again during the regular season, it seems like Vancouver’s D is finally stumbling from repeated postseason body blows.
The hope was that handsomely paid seventh defenseman Keith Ballard would be able to save the day or at least stop the bleeding. Instead, the hip checking maestro was a turnover machine (and not delicious apple turnovers either, sadly).
If you wanted any more proof that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t trust Ballard in the playoffs, today’s lineup note will drive that point home. Unproven rookie Chris Taven will take his place in the lineup for Game 5, according to Darren Dreger.
This basically breaks the Canucks defense down to: Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrew Alberts and Tanev. When remotely healthy, the strength of Vancouver’s defense was that there wasn’t a particularly rotten apple in the bunch. The sum was greater than their individual parts. Now their defense seems like a “Sum of All Fears” for especially distraught Canucks fans.
Things seem downright dire on D now with crucial defensive defenseman Dan Hamhuis injured and marginal (yet Vigneault-approved?) blueliner Aaron Rome suspended for the finals plus the many semi-documented injuries to active defensemen. The Bruins were able to exploit matchup problems thanks to the last change in Boston, but maybe the Canucks can survive by masking their deficiencies in Vancouver.
Going into this series, it seemed like the Canucks were the obvious favorites. Yet with Ryan Kesler seemingly banged up, the Sedin twins often bottled up by Boston, Luongo faltering and their defense in shambles, it’s tough to deny the notion that the Bruins are the more stable group. We’ll see if the Canucks can get things back together, but they’ll have to overcome their own makeshift defense and some troubling issues to do so.
Whichever way you look at Aaron Rome’s late hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3, the bottom line is that Horton won’t play another game in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
That means that the Boston Bruins will need to find a way to win three out of four games against the Vancouver Canucks without their first-line forward with a rifle of a right-handed shot. He might not be the most consistent performer, but when his line combo with David Krejci and Milan Lucic gets hot, they’ve been among the NHL’s most dangerous trios in the 2011 playoffs.
So how are they going to do it? It looks like they’re going to shuffle their lines a bit while Tyler Seguin will return to the Bruins’ lineup after watching another game in street clothes on Monday. Here are the expected forward lines with Horton out and Seguin in, according to Joe Haggerty.
Lucic – Krejci – Ryder
Marchand – Bergeron – Recchi
Peverley – Kelly – Seguin
Paille – Campbell – Thornton
While it looks like mercurial sniper Michael Ryder will get the nod on the first line, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Bruins experiment with versatile new addition Rich Peverley in that spot as well. Ryder has the deadly shot, but Peverley might be a more reliable player in many ways. If Ryder gets hot, he could be a nice weapon for that first line, though.
It’s probably not fair to ask Ryder or Peverley to shoulder the burden of replacing Horton’s production on their own, though. One player who could generate more offense is Lucic, who discussed the situation with Haggerty.
“It’s an opportunity for someone to step up and we need someone to step up. Nathan has been one of our best players and we still have to go out there and focus on what we need to do to have some success,” said Lucic. “It’s tough. It’s a big loss. He’s been a huge contributor to us getting to this point. He was a big reason I was able to take my game to another level and now I’m going to have to step up without him.
“[Ryder and Peverley] are both great players. Peverley last year had 55 points, so he’s shown that he can produce in this league. Ryder has scored 30 goals a couple of times and he’s scored almost 150 goals in this league, so he’s proven that he can score. They both have good shots and know how to compete and play. We have to count on them to step it up and fill in for what we’re missing with Nathan.”
The Bruins have overcome plenty of setbacks in the past – especially when it comes to key offensive players suffering from concussions – so they should be familiar with dealing with challenges like these. They seem to be at their best when their backs are up against the wall, so we might see another rousing fight from a team that perseveres over and over again.