Mixing It Up
Yes, there's the old story that they could be better on special teams, but in the last two games against the Anaheim Ducks, their five-on-five play has been nothing short of spectacular.
And it's all been done while the Canucks have been missing top defensemen. The Canucks' regular season ice-time leader, Kevin Bieksa, hasn't played in the series, and veteran Sami Salo was out for games one and two.
Missing top defenders on the team always presents a challenge. But the challenge isn't just coping with the absence of important players; it's also adapting to new defense pairings.
In a strange way, it's fortunate that the Canucks had to deal with injuries to their D all season long, because now, playing with a new partner doesn't pose much of a dilemma.
"Throughout the year we've gone through quite a bit of injuries on the back end," said Mattias Ohlund. "You adapt and try to do what you can."
Ohlund might feel a bit more comfortable with someone he's played with more often, but says it's no problem when Vigneault orders up a new pairing.
"When you play with the same guy for a long time, you know their tendencies and what kind of plays they like to do," says Ohlund. "I think a lot of times communication solves most problems, so whether it's an old partner or a new partner I don't think it's a big deal."
Brent Sopel is a familiar Canuck to Ohlund, because when Sopel was in Vancouver from 1998 to 2004 he spent a lot of time paired with the big Swede.
Since being acquired at the trade deadline, Sopel has spent most of his time with Lukas Krajicek, but with the recent injuries, he has been reunited with his old buddy Ohlie. It's a comfortable feeling, but Sopel won't have a problem when the lines change again.
"Obviously I've played with Mattias for many years," says Sopel. "We're used to playing with certain guys, but we're all good enough, we all can read each other, and we've played this game long enough that we can react to each other.
"It would be nice to have everybody back and have everybody healthy and back to our original start, but that's playoffs and that's part of the game. We get bumps and bruises here but we have guys that can step up and play with whoever."
Even though he's only been here since the trade deadline, Sopel's had quite a tour of the line chart. "I don't think there's a guy on this team I haven't played with," he says.
Having good communication between defensemen is critical, especially against the speedy Ducks who strike like a flock of mongoose on amphetamines.
"They've got great offensive forwards, they've got a lot of speed, and a lot of talent, so it makes it pretty challenging every night," says Sopel.
In light of overcoming the injuries and allowing the Ducks just two even strength goals in the last two games, Ohlund thinks the Canucks defense has been "pretty good," but still isn't satisfied.
"Playing pretty good is usually not good enough this time of the year, and especially against a quality team like Anaheim," he says. "You have to play at your absolute best, and I still think we have a ways to go before we've done that."
But the Canucks have had a marked improvement since game one, and were able to stick to the game plan of keeping it close in games two and three with some sound defense.
Salo says it's just a simple formula. "I think it's more of getting our nose dirty and trying to be more hard working and trying to take their time and space away."
For now, the Canucks are only without one starting defenseman - Bieksa. Coach Alain Vigneault has called Bieksa's injury "the flu," but after days of feeding that line to the media, he can't even keep a straight face when he says it.
It's hard to say how long the "flu" will keep him sidelined for, or if he'll even return to the series against Anaheim.
And though everyone wants to see the Canucks ice-time leader return as soon as possible, at least it's comforting to know that the Canucks will battle through it without too much hassle.