When the Vancouver Canucks announced that Manny Malhotra would be lost for the season and playoffs, it was widely surmised that replacing his minutes and contributions in both the faceoff circle and on the defensive side of things would be a difficult task. Following the news that Malhotra would be lost, Jonathan Willis looked at potential candidates to pick up some of the slack. It was trade deadline acquisition Maxim Lapierre who stepped up his game to fill the void in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal between the Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks.
A lot of what Manny Malhotra contributes to the Canucks comes in the form of his adept faceoff ability, positional play and possession, and his dynamic penalty killing ability. A committee led by Ryan Kesler that also included Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, Mason Raymond, and Henrik Sedin were leaned on for help on the draws in his absence during the regular season. Alain Vigneault used a rotating crew of forwards on the PK all season long that included Malhotra, Kesler, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and the speedy Mason Raymond. Lapierre and Higgins figured into the mix after being acquired at the deadline, with the latter picking up the bulk of minutes after Malhotra went down.
Flash forward to Game 1 on Wednesday night, and it was Lapierre who’s contributions in limited minutes that stood out beyond the standard boxscore columns.
Despite his negative Corsi rating (-7, the lowest on the team), Maxim Lapierre was a reliable tough minutes presence for Vancouver last night. In just over 12 minutes of play, he led the Canucks with eight hits, and most importantly, won 5 of 7 faceoffs (most of which he took in the defensive zone). He spent a shade over half of his even-strength minutes matched up against Frolik, but was served a steady diet of Kane and Hossa as well.
In terms of the quality of his competition, and zone-starts – Lapierre was assigned a difficult task against Chicago. Tougher minutes often serve to weigh-down an individual players Corsi number; so the difficulty of an individual players assignment is important to keep in mind. When a player draws the sort of arduous assignment Lapierre did last night – and still finishes with a +3 scoring chance differential, they probably had a very strong game. In the absence of injured folk hero Manny Malhotra, it will be pivotal for the Canucks that Lapierre continue to perform as well as he did last night.
That’s some hearty praise for a guy that many considered a candidate for the 13th forward before Malhotra’s season was lost. So what was the difference for Lapierre’s inspired play in the Canucks first game of the playoffs? Lapierre offered an explanation of his own in speaking to the media.
Via Iain MacIntyre, Posted Sports:
“It’s the emotion,” Lapierre said when asked to explain himself — invisible in the regular season, impactful in the playoffs.
“The third and fourth-liners, their game is built on emotion. This is what playoffs are about. It’s always like that in the playoffs; everyone wants to win. When you throw a bodycheck and (the crowd) is loud like that, it’s a great feeling.”
Whatever the cause for Lapierre’s elevated play in Game 1, it’s a positive sign for the Canucks moving forward. Lapierre has a history of getting under opponent’s skin and playing the ‘pest’ role, but it was his faceoff prowess and defensive play that stood out on this night. Lapierre’s value to a deep Canucks playoff run could be immeasurable if he can continue to step his game up.