The Vancouver Canucks are searching for their shutdown forward line amid injuries. This is the line that Travis Green should use until his defensive forward(s) return.
Shutting the down the opposition’s stars have been a key component of head coach Travis Green’s system. The Vancouver Canucks have fared okay this season, starting off very well in the first 15 games and then falling to a point where they are just trying to keep their heads above water.
Team defence is important, but for this team, it is critical for success. It’s an open secret the Canucks still have scoring woes despite the arrival of Brock Boeser. Consistency has continued to be a pressing issue and when the top line can’t score, the team needs to hold whatever lead they can muster.
This road trip has been a tale of two teams. The Canucks swept Pennsylvania, but have lost three consecutive games since. Defensively, they are sloppy and offensively, they can’t outgun their more talented opponents. John Tavares and the New York Islanders exposed this team on Tuesday. When the Canucks have average goaltending, they are not as good as those first 15 games made them appear.
Green is clearly missing Brandon Sutter and Derek Dorsett. They made up his successful shutdown line. Both are out with injury and Green needs to get the most he can out of his remaining forwards to still play a good defensive game.
Additionally, I think there is an optimal line to use in a shutdown role in lieu of these injuries. It will affect the remaining three lines, but the team needs to play a more structured game. The Canucks may seem like they are on the edge of a playoff spot being a point back, but as of writing, they are only four points away from falling to 28th in the league.
The best shutdown line
The Canucks need to realize that the defensive side of the game is not one of Bo Horvat’s strong points. It makes less sense to break up your best scoring line to pigeon-hole Horvat as a shutdown centre when his game is not there yet. Horvat should not be responsible for the opposition’s top line.
Despite what the analytics show, Sutter and Dorsett were very effective with Markus Granlund to begin the season. However, I don’t think any of those three forwards are the best defensive forwards on the team.
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First, I believe Loui Eriksson is our best defensive forward. Truthfully, I don’t think Eriksson is a bad player. However, he will never live up to his albatross of a contract. If we can ignore his $6 million cap hit, then he should play on our checking line. This is not a punishment; I feel Eriksson is the best man for the job.
Besides, with the way the current system is implemented, this line will likely get the most minutes on a nightly basis. We have the first piece of our shutdown line: the right wing.
Next, we need to look at the best centre for this line. I think Granlund fits the bill. He is good defensively and is very effective along the boards in his own end. He has the flexibility to play centre and wing, but since he can read the ice well, I think he will excel down the middle.
Lastly, we need to find the best left wing for this line. I will go with Brendan Gaunce. He doesn’t contribute much offensively, but his defensive game is strong. Gaunce is not the fastest skater, but I think his positioning and intelligence is enough to be the best option at left wing.
How this affects the rest of the forwards
With this new shutdown line, I would prefer to see the forward lineup to look like this:
Sven Baertschi—Bo Horvat—Brock Boeser
Jake Virtanen—Alexander Burmistrov—Thomas Vanek
Brendan Gaunce—Markus Granlund—Loui Eriksson
This means Sam Gagner gets the short end of the stick here. The scratch would ultimately be decided between Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin and Gagner. If I were making the decisions, I would scratch Gagner. I have not been happy with his play this season and he is not suited for a defensive role.
I believe Virtanen and Goldobin will give us a better chance of scoring over Gagner. A problem with the reality of the situation is that Virtanen would be the likely scratch if Green went with my shutdown line. Gagner would take his spot on that “third” line instead.
It’s not favourable, but if Green is going to play him 10 minutes a night without any penalty killing time, then that might be preferable to double shifting a winger in his place. I don’t agree with it, but I can see why Green would make that decision in this scenario.
Goldobin looked great in his short stint with the Sedins last season, and I think he could get their line going. The third line is what interests me the most because the skill sets being mixed together. I don’t think it’s a crazy idea to try Virtanen on his off wing. He played on both sides in junior and Thomas Vanek does look better on the right side.
At the end of this, the Canucks are going to have to change something. They are on a three-game slide and are up against a formidable Nashville Predators team on Thursday.