Simply put, if the Vancouver Canucks want to go deep into the playoffs, Henrik and Daniel Sedin need to play a key role.
Whether it is the two Art Ross winners scoring at regular strength, running the power play or just drawing attention away from Ryan Kesler and the other forwards, the Sedins need to be at their best.
Which means they need a bodyguard.
The last few seasons, thanks in large part to the Blackhawks, the book on the Sedins is to slash and punch them at every opportunity. The penalties taken by doing so are generally worth the hampering effect this has on the twins over a long series.
The last few years, under the regime of Mike Gillis, the game plan for the Canucks has been to absorb these hits, complain to the referees and then get even on the scoreboard.
Sometimes this strategy of turning the other cheek has worked, and sometimes it hasn't.
This strategy failed spectacularly in the latter half of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, as the referees stopped making calls, and the Canucks couldn't score even when they did get a power play.
So rather than pinpoint passing from a pair of Art Ross winners, we got to see punks like Brad Marchand taking liberties with the twins, and then hiding behind his bigger teammates and the linesmen.
In earlier rounds of the 2011 playoffs, we also saw Dave Bolland and Ben Eager taking runs at the Sedins with intent to injure, but luckily they escaped injury, and the power play clicked to make them pay.
Fast forward to the spring of 2012. The playoffs are about to start, but Daniel Sedin's status is still up in the air after suffering a cheap-shot elbow from Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks.
When he comes back, whether it is Game 1 or later in the series, the Canucks should take a serious look at shuffling the lineup and putting either Zack Kassian or Byron Bitz up on the top line to ride shotgun for the Sedins.
Both are heavyweights who can intimidate and pound pretty much any other player who conceivably could dress for a playoff game, at least in the Western Conference.
While either Bitz or Kassian could exact vengeance, preferably bloody, on anyone taking liberties with the twins in a fourth-line role, by being on the top line they can also act as a deterrent.
The current right winger for the Sedins is Alex Burrows, and he simply can't fill the deterrent role.
Burrows can hold his own in a scrum, but he isn't a fighter, and no one is intimidated by him. And with his reputation, Burrows will always get the extra penalty if he jumps into a scrum to defend his line mates from abuse after the whistles.
Burrows is also one of the most clutch goal scorers on the Canucks, and they can't afford to have him sitting in the penalty box or getting ejected from a game. And if he is bumped off the top line, he can shift down to play with Ryan Kesler on the second line to help get that line going.
Bitz and Kassian, on the other hand, are more expendable in that regard. While they both have the skill necessary to keep up with the Sedins, losing either one of them to a misconduct or fighting major isn't going to overly hobble the Canucks.
With that in mind, if Kassian or Bitz are bumped up to the top line, I'd like to see them playing a bodyguard role for the Sedins.
If someone even throws a nasty glare at Daniel or Henrik, grab the opposing player, take the instigator penalty if necessary and beat them to a pulp.
The Canucks being forced to kill off a few extra instigator or roughing penalties early in a series in exchange for breaking a few heads until the opposition decides playing "whack a Sedin" isn't worth the pain is a fair trade off in my opinion.
The Canucks simply can't go deep into the playoffs with the twins getting abused every shift like they have been in past playoff series. Even if it doesn't cause a major injury, all the abuse takes its toll.
The only ways to prevent that are:
- A. Trust the referees to make the proper calls, and then score on the power play.
- B. Get revenge after the fact
- C. Proactively take action to deter it from happening in the first place.
The Canucks have tried option A before, and it doesn't work if you hit a hot goalie or your power play dries up. And the way the referees have been calling games since the All-Star break, I think this spring might be even more "anything goes" than usual for the playoffs.
Option B can work, but it is after the fact. Beating up someone for running Henrik doesn't help the Canucks in the end if Henrik watches the rest of the series from the medical room.
Option C can potentially head off any potential incidents before they happen, and it doesn't preclude the other two options either.
The Kings aren't a particularly nasty team, and I don't think this series will head into the gutter.
But the Kings also aren't stupid, and they know what worked for Chicago and Boston in the past to stop the Sedins.
So a little deterrent in the form of a heavyweight on the top line could go a long way towards ensuring the continued health of Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
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