Alex Burrows first slotted in as the full-time right wing for the Sedin twins in the 2009-10 season, after the Vancouver Canucks tried four different forwards, including Burrows, the year before.
The collaboration has been a big success. There were back-to-back scoring titles, Henrik then Daniel, to start, and the partnership now extends into a fifth season, a long time for linemates.
But for the second time this year, coach John Tortorella has had to lean on another player to fill the spot beside the 33-year-old twins in the absence of an injured Burrows. And the situation is hardly settled, as three players – Jannik Hansen, David Booth, and Zack Kassian – all got time with the Sedins on Monday night in the Canucks 2-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
There is something elusive in striking a chemistry with the Sedins, something Burrows managed but no other Canuck winger really has. At even strength, Burrows has played three-quarters of the minutes with the Sedins from 2009-10 on, so his spot leaves a hole in the lineup – one that will extend through most of December, with Burrows out with a broken jaw that required surgery.
Kassian, the erratic 22-year-old who is supposed to become an imposing, potent power forward, would be the obvious choice to fill the spot, given that he played solid minutes with the Sedins last year and in the preseason was predicted to get first-line time this year. But a suspension, followed by poor play, has left him out of the conversation for Tortorella – seemingly more worried about Kassian's mistakes than potential success. On paper, Kassian has goal-scoring prowess – but he hasn't played well for several weeks.
The first time Burrows was injured, Tortorella made the unusual choice to go with second-line centre Ryan Kesler as the Sedins' winger, saying he has always thought Kesler was more of a winger than a centre. The trio -- also the team's power play – was good, obviously stacking all the best players together, but there was hardly the depth to fill out the other lines.
Tortorella has since recanted his Kesler-as-winger talk, as Kesler centres the surging second line with Mike Santorelli and Chris Higgins, the key to wins in recent games.
This time, after Burrows surgery, Tortorella briefly tried Santorelli with the Sedins for some shifts in Nashville last Tuesday before giving David Booth a shot in the second period, staying with Booth through the game and the next, Phoenix last Friday. It was part of Booth's comeback from a stint in the minors and missing games as a healthy scratch – but it didn't work. Booth didn't click at all with the Sedins.
In their small amount of time together – about 40 minutes of five-on-five play – Booth actually dragged the twins down. Booth is the only Canucks with whom the Sedins see more shots attempted against the Canucks than for.
So the job has fallen to Hansen. The Danish winger has had a small amount of minutes with the twins over the years and the three were good together against Colorado on Sunday but less so versus Carolina on Tuesday, which was why Tortorella subbed in in other faces in the third period. Booth had a couple shifts, and then Kassian actually had one shift. He looked pretty good, working the puck, and got off a nice shot on goal. Tortorella then went back to Hansen.
Tortorella is playing it safe, rather than experimenting for potentially greater returns – but greater risk – with Kassian. Good things could happen if Kassian is given the role with the Sedins for several games, straight through, and not yanking him when he botches something. Notwithstanding his not-great overall play, the one shift in the third on Monday is a little intriguing at least.
All in, the whiter-Burrows question is a bit moot, given the Canucks are winning. The team was 8-3-1 in the dozen games earlier this year when he was out, and now are 4-0 since the broken jaw. When the lineup includes Burrows, the team is 6-7-4.
It does remain an issue. The Sedins scored a point a game when Burrows was first out but in the past four games the Sedins have slumped. Henrik has one point, a goal, in the four games, and Daniel has three assists. They need to find a teammate with some Swedish sensibilities. Kassian could be that guy – if he gets a real shot.