Keith Ballard sat out his fourth consecutive game this evening and it has Canucks nation puzzled. Fans and media alike have questioned this move by Vigneault which at first appeared to be a case of a coach sending a message to a player. That theory was largely thrown out after it became evident that this was more than just a couple of games in the press box. The theory also didn’t make sense to me because this was a player that got into a spirited fight in his last game and hasn’t hesitated to block shots in his first eight games.
That’s impressive especially when you consider that he’s still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and an early season concussion. Despite this, Alain Vigneault has denied that Ballard isn’t healthy enough to play and has now suggested that Keith Ballard is out of the lineup due to his poor conditioning (not the “I’m going to let myself go” Wellwood/O’Brien kind, rather the kind where you can’t workout because you’re injured). If Ballard is out of shape, won’t playing games help him get back into shape?
I’m all for message sending, but this is a player that wasn’t struggling that badly before being benched and ought to be put into position to be a top four defenseman. That’s tough to do when he hasn’t even been given more than 18 minutes of ice time in a game this season.
The count is now at four games as a healthy scratch for Ballard. Andrew Alberts finished tonight’s game versus Buffalo a minus three and saw limited action in the third period, so I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Ballard will get back into the lineup in their next game against Pittsburgh.
This decision by Alain Vigneault to sit Ballard has been part of an overall movement to shuffle his defense pairings. Usually Vigneault shuffles his forward lines and leaves his defense pairings alone, but this year has been the opposite. Vigneault needs to find some pairings that he’s comfortable with and try to stick with it. I also believe that he needs to find some sort of shutdown pairing, centred around Dan Hamhuis. In this evening’s game Hamhuis was paired with Aaron Rome. That’s not going to get the job done against the league’s top snipers.
Did someone say shuffle?
I would like to see the Canucks pair Hamhuis with Alex Edler to form a true shutdown pairing as they had in the past with Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo. With most teams in the NHL, if you stop their top line, you win the game. With that said, the Canucks have enough depth to pair their top two defensemen together and could have Ballard-Ehrhoff and Bieksa-Rome/Alberts as their other pairings.
Can it really be surprising that a struggling Sabres team found their form when top players like Derek Roy and Tomas Vanek are getting to play against the likes of Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome on a regular basis? Rome and Alberts are capable NHL defensemen, but they ought not to be matched up against world class snipers if you can avoid it. Roy and Vanek were on the ice for three goals for, scoring on Canucks pairings of Ehrhoff-Alberts, Bieksa-Alberts and Hamhuis-Rome.