VANCOUVER – Trying to decode the mixed messages from Alain Vigneault concerning which player will replace Dan Hamhuis or whether Manny Malhotra will make an appearance was more daunting than a power play opportunity for the Boston Bruins.
But as the Vancouver Canucks and the Bruins prepare for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night, the clear message from both sides is they’ll have to be better than they were in Game 1.
For the Canucks, that means moving their feet more and being less predictable on the power play. And for the Bruins, it means fewer turnovers in the neutral zone and, well, some production on the power play. Although at this point in the playoffs, the Bruins play with the man advantage may very well be a lost cause.
“We need more out of everybody,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “If we plan on winning (Saturday), that’s something we’re going to need. We managed 36 shots on net (in Game 1), but that’s just a number. Scoring chances is what you look at and I think we can be better with regard to that.”
One place to start for the Bruins would be on their putrid power play, which is clicking at just a 7.5 percent rate after going 0-for-6 in a Game 1 that included one four-minute power play and a two-man advantage. Putting the very large Zdeno Chara in front of the net as a forward along with David Krejci and Nathan Horton with Tomas Kaberle and Patrice Bergeron at the point seems to be the plan going forward. Late in practice Friday, Chara stationed himself in front of the net to tip pucks from the point. We’re not going to say it was a failure, but Tomas Holmstrom certainly has nothing to worry about.
The Canucks handled Chara in Game 1 in an unusual, but effective fashion by simply not wasting their energy by trying to engage him in a physical battle in front of the net. They essentially allowed goalie Roberto Luongo to take care of Chara and, aside from the fact they took two highsticking penalties against hockey’s tallest freestanding structure, the strategy seemed to work very well.
(For our money, a little more Tyler Seguin and a little less Mark Recchi might go a long way. Recchi was very good early in the playoffs, but his game has been in a serious decline as the playoff grind has continued. Seguin, meanwhile, has been brilliant at times, ineffective at others. But how would you know how good the kid can be when he gets only 6:21 of ice time?)
The Canucks, meanwhile, also went 0-for-6 in Game 1 and are looking to be a lot more mobile with the extra man. The Canucks are a skill team and they know they take away much of that advantage if they don’t move their feet.
“I think our power play wasn’t good at all,” Daniel Sedin said. “That was the main difference. If we get a goal or two on the power play, we’ll be fine. We’re a pretty predictable bunch when we don’t move our feet.”
One place the Canucks cannot be accused of being predictable is in their lineup. Hamhuis, who left Game 1 after twisting his ankle while hitting Milan Lucic, was not on the ice for practice and is not expected to play in Game 2. The Sami Salo-Alex Edler tandem stayed intact for practice Friday, while Kevin Bieksa, who is normally paired with Hamhuis, worked with Aaron Rome, while Christian Ehrhoff and Andrew Alberts were paired together. That would leave most to speculate the more rugged Alberts and not the more skilled and highly paid Keith Ballard, would draw the assignment. But Vigneault cautioned nobody should read anything into the practice assignments.
Which means Malhotra, who nobody seems to know whether he has actually been cleared to play, could make an appearance at some point in this series, perhaps even in time for Game 2. After taking a few days off with another procedure on his injured eye, Malhotra skated regularly on the fourth line in practice with Jeff Tambellini and Victor Oreskovich and certainly looked as though he would be ready.
Considering Tambellini led all Vancouver fourth-liners with 2:30 of ice time in Game 1, would there be any real danger in inserting Malhotra into Alex Bolduc’s spot on the fourth line? If you want an indication of how ridiculous NHL coaches can be at this time of year when talking about injured players, consider that Vigneault was asked why he said Malhotra was cleared to play last weekend, only to have GM Mike Gillis say the day before Game 1 that Malhotra had not been cleared.
“No, nobody said that,” Vigneault said. “He’s cleared for physical contact, which is cleared to play. We said, I said at the time he was day-to-day. He was monitored every day.”
Don’t be shocked if Malhotra makes an appearance at some point during the Stanley Cup final. His faceoff and penalty-killing acumen alone would be a huge boon to the Canucks, who are getting some great play from the lower tier of the lineup already.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog.
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