The quirkiest injury I’ve ever seen involves--you guessed it--Sammi Salo. It was back in the 2009 playoffs, in game 2 of the Canucks-Hawks second-round series. The Canucks were on a first-period power play when Salo took a pass in the high slot and wired a slap shot past Nikolai Khabibulan to open the scoring. However, Salo somehow managed to injury himself taking the shot; it was too weird for words!
So, there were the Canucks, taking the lead not even six minutes into the game--and, in fact, adding to the lead with another power-play goal a mere 69 seconds later--thus building on the momentum they had got going with a late push-back in game 1, regaining a lead they had relinquished by allowing the Hawks a third-period three-goal outburst. However, all that momentum evaporated as the game went on, with defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown, allowing Chicago to score five straight goals en route to a 6-3 win.
The Vancouver defense had a hard time keeping it together when their ranks were reduced to five, forcing them into new pairings. And this is a phenomenon I have noticed often in the ensuing years, so much so that whenever they lose a d-man early in a game, I simply resign myself to the fact they are going to lose. . .like with game 3 of the Canucks-Bruins Stanley Cup Final. At the 5:07 mark--the game still scoreless--Aaron Rome gets tossed for his hit on Nathan Horton. Right then, realizing the Canucks were now down to five d-men, I said to myself, “The game’s over. . .they’re going to lose.” And it was hard to watch as the defense did indeed disintegrate, resulting in four goals against in the second period, and another four in the third.
The Canucks’ propensity for suffering such defensive meltdowns upon losing a d-man has led me to conclude: they need to develop a forward/d-man hybrid, that is, a player who will usually play on the fourth line, but who can drop back into the third-pairing on defense should a d-man get injured or ejected. When the Canucks gave Jim Vandermeer an invitation to training camp this season, I thought they were finally going to have their forward/d-man hybrid. . .but, of course, he got sent down to the Wolves.
Then came news on Thursday that due to the rash of injuries the Canucks were experiencing, Keith Ballard would be playing up on the wing. And I thought, “This is perfect! Ballard seems to have a propensity for defensive meltdowns even when the Canucks aren’t down to five d-men. So, why not use him as a forward/d-man hybrid, putting him up on the wing as a matter of course, ready to be dropped back into the third pairing should the Canucks lose one of their d-men?" He may not be that reliable defensively, but having him slot in as an emergency sixth d-man has got to be better than risking the total defensive meltdown that happens so often when being forced to play with only five d-men.
Of course, with the current shortage on defense due to Alex Edler’s suspension, Ballard is needed back on the blueline. However, once Edler is back, perhaps Ballard should be worked into one of the bottom two lines for the long haul; having him there to be dropped back mid-game onto the blue line to fill in for an injured or ejected d-man may very well allow the Canucks to avoid a defensive meltdown at a crucial juncture during the playoffs.