To Vancouver Canuck fans, they are known as ‘the second line.’
But 14 games – 14 road games – from now, Canuck fans have to be hoping they can call the trio ‘road warriors’ and ‘difference makers’ as well.
With the hockey club embarking on the longest road trip in National Hockey League history, it’s clear the Canucks will, at times, need contributions from everyone throughout the line-up. They’ll need the twins and Alex Burrows to continue to lead the way offensively and they’ll need Roberto Luongo to continue doing what he’s been doing while the Canucks have gone 12-2-2 since Christmas and 17-4-2 in their last 23 games.
But in order for the Canucks to continue to battle for top spot in the Northwest Division and to remain in the hunt for one of the top seeds in the Western Conference, the Canucks will need Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson to pull their weight like they did in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. The line combined for two goals and five assists and was the driving force behind the team’s sixth straight win.
Here’s where things get interesting.
Like the team they play on, Kesler, Raymond and Samuelsson have been terrific all year on home ice. Wednesday’s seven points upped that line’s total production to 35 goals and 60 points in 31 home games (1.94 points/game). The flip side of the equation, however, is that on the road that threesome has been held to 13 goals and 34 points in 22 games away from GM Place (1.55 points/game).
Obviously the discrepancy in the number of games played at home explains why production is higher at GM Place than on the road. Another explanation may be that without last change, Alain Vigneault has found his team forced into shorter shifts and more frequent changes in an effort to work away from specific match-ups. That can throw off a line’s rhythm and not allow it to get into synch in a hockey game. It’s also plausible that in an effort to get the Canucks top line away from the other team’s top checkers and defensive pair, the Kesler, Raymond, Samuelsson group has seen less favourable match-ups away from home.
Whatever the reasons, the numbers don’t lie. It hasn’t been easy for the Canucks’ second line to rack up points on the road this season. Just three of Kesler’s 13 goals have come away from home, while Raymond has scored seven of his 20 on the road and Samuelsson has netted six of his 18 in visiting rinks.
Scratch beneath the statistical surface and you’ll find that there are signs of life for the second line away from home. And this is what the Canucks will need more of – a lot more of -- over the next six weeks as they tour the National Hockey League.
Early in the season, Ryan Kesler struggled with no goals and just two assists in the team’s first nine road games. Not surprisingly, the Canucks went 3-6 in those games. But Kesler has three goals and six points in the team’s last seven road outings during which the club has gone 4-2-1.
Mason Raymond scored his first NHL hattrick – on the road -- at the Saddledome in Calgary on December 27th. And Mikael Samuelsson has points in five of his past six road outings. So it looks like the second line has picked up its play away from home which is one of the reasons the Canucks are 4-1-1 in their last six road games and 7-3-1 in their last 11 games as visitors.
On more than a few occasions this season, the Canucks second line has shown an ability to take control of hockey games with a strong blend of speed and skill. When Ryan Kesler is hustling and hitting, when Mason Raymond is racing up and down his wing and when Mikael Samuelsson is picking corners with his quick-release, that line has proven it can give defences all they can handle. But those dominating performances have almost always happened at home.
So along with enough clean socks and underwear to get them through the first leg of their 14-game odyssey, the Canucks’ second line has to pack its home game as it heads out on the road. There’s no question it’s going to be a challenge.
But if the Kesler, Raymond and Samuelsson combination can produce on the trip, there is every reason to believe the Canucks will feel right at home out on the road.