Tonight’s game actually motivated me to write a blogpost, as I wanted to go over something that has been infuriating me for a while now.
Specifically, Alain Vigneault’s treatment of Keith Ballard. I could go back even further and trace this into his attitudes about Brendan Morrison, but that ship has sailed, fought in a few wars, been decommissioned and is now used as an artificial reef somewhere off the coast of Australia. A digression.
A lot of talk is being made about Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton. While I don’t want to get into that, as it’s going to be discussed ad nauseum over the next couple of days, I will say that I hope that Horton is okay and makes a full recovery. Bruins fans have already had their hearts torn from their chests with Marc Savard’s concussion woes and it wouldn’t do to see another talented player get sidelined. Imagine losing Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin to injuries. Yeah.
Anyway, I found Alain Vigneault’s decision to put Andrew Alberts into the lineup to be an intriguing one, mostly because I really didn’t get why a sometimes effective, bottom pairing defenseman was getting put into the Stanley Cup Finals over Keith Ballard, a guy who has shown he’s capable of being a second pairing defenseman. I guess Vigneault was getting cute and figured what’s the worst that could happen? Andrew Alberts could log significant minutes if needed…right?
Well, with your top blueliner, Dan Hamhuis, out potentially for the entire series and another defenseman getting ejected tonight Canucks fans got the answer to those questions. Respectively, 8-1 and no, absolutely not.
Alberts was on the ice for 4 goals against, 2 even strength, bringing his +/- to -5, tied with Henrik for second worst on the team. (Christian Ehrhoff, who hasn’t had the best playoffs this season, has the worst at -10.) He looked slow and ponderous out there, with shades of his whistle chasing behaviour rearing it’s ugly head in front of Luongo’s net.
This makes me wonder: why is Keith Ballard not seeing any icetime? Ballard has been on the ice for 2 even strength goals against in 9 playoff games. The Canucks are 7-2 with Ballard in the lineup. He’s played more hockey than Alberts has, both in the regular and post-season. Heck, Alberts hasn’t seen regular icetime since February.
Ballard has provided huge hipchecks, including an awesome one on Jamie McGinn in the Sharks series. He’s a guy who can log more icetime than Alberts and, in a situation like tonight where Rick Bowness was forced to shuffle his lineup because of Rome being ejected, could have handled those minutes, even if Vigneault is loathe to give him any playing time.
Vigneault’s fascination with grinders and guys with size has been one of the things that has annoyed me immensely since he’s been the Canucks bench boss. I don’t know if Alberts being 6′5 and Ballard being 5′11 is one of the factors in Vigneault’s decision making process, but frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.
Unfortunately, this is the Stanley Cup Finals. This isn’t a regular season game where a single loss can be shrugged off and adjustments can be made. Everything matters. One win can swing the momentum back in favour of your opponent and you can’t take chances in putting questionable players into your lineup when there are better options available to you. It’s not as though Ballard has been injured or is off rescuing kittens from burning buildings in Madrid. He’s right there on the team, has shown he can contribute and be a positive addition.
So the question is, why doesn’t he play? Your guess is as good as mine. It could be size. It could a personality clash with him and Alain Vigneault. But, barring a serious injury of some kind (and there has been nothing to indicate that such is the case) Ballard should be playing, especially with Ehrhoff looking like a mess and Dan Hamhuis being out of the lineup.
Instead, Vigneault opts to go with Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome. Potentially burning bridges with Ballard. Maybe eroding some confidence.
And now, with the Canucks getting a thorough jolly rogering from the Bruins, Vigneault may just have to turn to a player he has alienated for no discernible reason or purpose and expect him to provide a high level of play in most important set of hockey games in Vancouver Canucks history. This, while leaving his star goaltender to languish out on the ice for the entirety of those 60 minutes, leaving two huge question marks/messes on the Canucks hands going into Game 4.
The word that comes to mind, when thinking of Rome and Vigneault? Stupid.
Let’s hope it’s not too late.