With Zack Kassian out for weeks due to an injured finger, the Canucks forward roster is thin enough that at the moment, every healthy player will draw in. That means Vancouver will have a line featuring three natural centermen playing alongside each other. Veteran Brad Richardson will play the middle with converted pivot-men Shawn Matthias and Linden Vey playing the wings.
The decision to keep Richardson in the middle from pretty much the start of the season is predicated on his prowess in the face-off circle, as well as his ability to battle down low in the defensive zone using his hockey sense and experience. He is on pace to hit double digits in goals for the fourth time in his career, and has played in every game so far this season. He’ll be an important part of the Canucks third line during this road trip, and is looking for his first road goal as his three markers to date were scored in back-to-back games at Rogers Arena.
For Shawn Matthias, his conversion to the wing started during the exhibition schedule, and he’s come along as of late in learning the role of power forward. With puck possession being the key to playing longer in the offensive zone, Matthias is becoming adept at using his 6-foot-4 frame to protect pucks along the boards, but more importantly, drag the puck to the net for scoring chances. He admits there can be more converted scoring from his line, and he’s just slightly under his clip from last season’s 18 games with the Canucks when he registered three goals and four assists to end the year. The biggest improvement in his game has been on the penalty kill, as he hasn’t been on the ice yet for an opposition man-advantage goal against, and has the only Canucks shorthanded assist so far.
With the injury to Zack Kassian, right-shooting Linden Vey gets the chance to play alongside Richardson and Matthias, and after spot duty at right wing in games previous. He played in place of injured Alex Burrows together with Bonino and Higgins, and even though that line didn’t score, it gave Vey the chance to play more minutes that will serve him well throughout this challenging road trip. Vey hasn’t been a winger at any time previous to his coming to the Canucks, so he is learning on the go. If he can continue to use his outside speed, he will add an element to a line that could help it be strong at both ends of the ice.
For the Canucks to be successful on this road trip playing against some top teams in the East like Montreal and Pittsburgh, and for them to secure points versus struggling Columbus and Washington and others on the schedule, they’ll need contributions for more than just one line each game, and with three centermen playing together, the size of Matthias, speed of Vey, and leadership of Richardson should help propel Vancouver to an above .500 record on their longest odyssey this year.