On his second shift back after missing five games with a nagging groin injury, Kevin Bieksa handed the puck to Matt Halischuk on a platter, then watched as the Predators’ forward jammed the disc past Roberto Luongo.
The Canucks’ blueliner was hoping to make an impact on his return to the lineup. This isn’t what he had in mind.
Then again, it was an eventful night for Bieksa all the way around. In the second period, he was trying to defend in front of Luongo when Nic Spaling’s centering pass deflected off him past the Canucks’ goalie. Then he took a penalty in the second period. Then he was victimized on Mike Fisher’s third-period goal for the Nashvillians that made the score 5-4 and provided some unnecesary angst.
Take Bieksa out of the equation, in fact, and Luongo’s night would have been a lot easier. As it was, the Grimsby Grappler’s presence made for an infinitely more interesting in-game experience for all concerned in the Canucks’ weird and wonderful 7-4 win over the Preds.
“Really interesting,” Canucks’ head coach Alain Vigneault said when asked about Bieksa’s body of work. “Listen, I’m going to enjoy the win. Some guys had their moments tonight. All of us should try to stay positive.”
Which isn’t a problem for Bieksa.
“There were some strange bounces out there; some for us, some against us,” Bieksa said after returning from a post-game photo op with armed services personnel. “But when you score seven goals you’re doing something right. We’ll take it.
“At the end of the day it’s the win that counts. I felt good physically. That was encouraging.”
The rest, presumably, will take care of itself.
In trying to determine what the Canucks were missing in Bieksa’s absence, other than wins, his teammates invariably point to the balance he gives to the Canucks’ blueline.
As a right-hand shot, he restores some sense of order and purpose to the blueline pairings and that was evident on Thursday night. Alex Edler, who was paired with the estimable Chris Tanev, had his best game of the year with a goal, an assist and a plus-three rating. Dan Hamhuis lead all blueliners with 23:41 of ice time and four of the D-men, including Bieksa, finished with 20-plus minutes..
“It puts people in their right spots when he’s in the lineup,” said Henrik Sedin, whose penalty-shot goal was one of the highlights of a kooky night..
But it also goes much deeper than that. Even when Bieksa’s struggling, and he was struggling mightily on Thursday night, he still brings something to the table the Canucks are lacking. On a team which features a disproportionate number of deferential personalities, Bieksa’s edge and confidence stands out. Yes, there’s a high risk-reward element to his game. But there’s also an aggressiveness, an attack mentality the Canucks need.
“Every team needs different personalities,” Henrik said. “You can’t have everyone – how would you say? – as down-to-earth types. He brings some confidence. He’s not afraid to make things happen.”
And he was making things happen on Thursday night. OK, a lot of them were bad. But late in the first, Bieksa also threw a sublime pass to Jannik Hansen that started an odd-man rush and ended with a pretty Mason Raymond goal. It was no accident that, with Bieksa back in the lineup, the Canucks were jumping and moving better than they’ve been in a month.
That’s what Bieksa gives you. Well, that and a bunch of other stuff.
“It’s good we got all those goals or it would have turned into an ugly loss,” Luongo said.
Instead, it will be recorded as an ugly win, even if Bieksa will argue there’s no such thing.
“It’s the kind of game you can build on,” Bieksa said. “Everyone will come to the rink tomorrow feeling loose and good and they’re confidence will be up.”
Not that he needs help in that area.