VANCOUVER – Alex Burrows was pulled off the Vancouver Canucks’ top forward line Tuesday as coach Alain Vigneault attempted to kick-start his struggling club.
Burrows skated on the third line in practice, and is expected to line up in the same spot Wednesday as the Canucks (42-19-8) host the Phoenix Coyotes (34-25-11). Mason Raymond worked out on the No. 1 unit with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“If that’s what A.V. feels is the right thing to do, that’s fine with me,” Burrows said.
The Canucks have lost five of their past six games and, after contending for first overall, are struggling to keep up with the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues. In addition to moving Burrows, Vigneault also shuffled his top two defence pairings.
“This is about finding new solutions to get our guys going,” said Vigneault. “You do that on a practice-to-game basis. You do that on a shift-to-shift basis.”
Specifically, Vigneault wants to get his top players producing the way they can. Burrows has just one goal in his past 11 games and has said publicly he is to blame for the Sedins’ poor production of late.
Henrik Sedin has no points in eight games while Daniel has just one goal in the same period. However, the move represents a gamble of sorts, because Burrows has actually been the top line’s best producer of late.
Although he has just the one goal, Burrows has fared slightly better than the Sedins with three points in eight games. Raymond, on the other hand, has struggled most of the time since he returned from a career-threatening back injury in December.
Raymond has just two points in his last 12 games.
“Obviously, Mason brings a different skill set than Alex and a little bit more speed,” Vigneault said.
Burrows skated alongside grinding winger Jannik Hansen and checking centre Samuel Pahlsson in practice. The move represents a return to Burrows’ grinding roots.
Never drafted, he rose to the NHL from the lowly ECHL largely on the basis of his checking and hitting skills. He emerged as a scoring star almost by chance when was put on a line with the Sedins a few seasons ago after Vigneault had experimented unsuccessfully with several other players.
“I’ve always been a grinder, or a checker, that’s been put in a position to be more offensive,” Burrows said. “Deep down that’s where I come from, and that’s fine with me.
“Me and (Hansen), we play the same kind of game. We like to get in on the forecheck and create turnovers. We moved the puck pretty good in practice (Tuesday) morning. So, hopefully, it’s the sign of good things.”
Raymond, on the other hand, has always been expected to play an offensive role. But his production has dropped considerably the past two seasons, and he has looked out of place as a top-six forward. The 26-year-old Cochrane, Alta., native was also the subject of trade speculation before the Feb. 27 deadline.
Raymond has just eight goals and eight assists in 42 games this season after producing a career-high 25 goals and 28 assists in 2009-10. He returns to the line on which he played his first NHL regular-season game in 2007-08, but has not played often with the Sedins since then.
Vigneault said he has not decided for sure on the switches for the game against the Coyotes. But he confirmed that Roberto Luongo, who has also struggled lately, will start in goal.
Luongo has just one win in the past five games in which he has played and is 1-3 in that span. In the game where he did not get a decision, he allowed three goals in the first 5:10 and was pulled for backup Cory Schneider.
Luongo has played less this season than he did by the same point in 2010-11, but said the reduced playing time has not affected his play.
“I feel the same,” said Luongo, who has allowed 14 goals in the past five games. “I feel good. Physically, the body is where it needs to be. Obviously, I’d like to be, maybe, sharper mentally than over the course of the last few games. That being said, sometimes, you’ve just got to relax and play.”
Vigneault said he just feels that Luongo is “the guy” right now. Noting the forwards and top-four defencemen have also struggled, Vigneault said Luongo should not be singled out for the team’s poor play.
“It’s a very unfair statement to blame Roberto with the way we’re playing right now,” said Vigneault.