X-Factor: A healthy Higgins plays key role for Canucks
If Chris Higgins has learned one thing during a nomadic eight-year NHL career, it's the importance of not changing his game despite changing addresses.
It's a lesson that served the wing well while bouncing up and down -- and often on both sides of -- the Canucks' forward lines this year. Despite the ever-changing circumstances and an 11-game absence caused by staph infections, higgins approached the 20-goal plateau.
"It's just not changing," Higgins said. "Playing a couple of years in the League and playing on a couple different teams, you realize you have to play the exact same way every night no matter who you are playing with. If you try to do too much, or try to do too little, it's going to mess your game up, mess your confidence up."
There's been plenty of opportunity to lose confidence bouncing around the NHL -- after five years in Montreal, the Canucks became his fourth team in two years at the 2011 NHL Trade Deadline -- and yo-yo-ing through the lineup this season.
Instead, Higgins emerged as a key to the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, a player who wins battles along the wall, finds open teammates, and doesn't hesitate to go to dirty areas. Add in a great shot, and Higgins has become the Canucks' "Mr. Fix It," bringing almost instant success to the numerous lines on which he has played.
For the final month of the season, he has logged time on the Canucks' checking unit with one of this year's trade-deadline additions, Samuel Pahlsson, and speedster Jannik Hansen. Despite playing against the top forwards from opposing teams, the shutdown trio is chipping in goals -- including five for Higgins during a season-high seven-game win streak.
That finish is reminiscent of Higgins' start, and a reminder of how valuable he can be.
Higgins was arguably the Canucks best forward -- certainly their most consistent -- the first two months, and seemed to find a home with fellow Americans Ryan Kesler and David Booth. He had eight goals and nine assists in 26 games and was on a four-game points streak before the staph infection, adding six points in eight games before the infection flared up again and forced him to miss three more.
The damage lasted a lot longer than his physical absence. He didn't score a goal in January while battling complications from medication that robbed him of his usual energy. When he was finally forced out another six games, Higgins lost more than 10 pounds.
It wasn't until late February that he started to feel -- and play -- like himself.
That has Higgins excited about the playoffs, even as some clamor for his return to a second line that has struggled mightily without him. He has probably become too valuable to an important checking line for that to happen, however.
But if it does, Higgins knows what to do: nothing.