Hopefully not lost in the KesLORD/Thunderdome party last night was another strong game from our "injury-ravaged" defense. If you knew in October that Vancouver would be without Alexandre Edler, Andrew Alberts and of course Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa would be our top (or close second) shutdown defenseman and we'd pair Christian Ehrhoff and Keith Ballard with rookies we didn't know of before last summer, you may have uttered a phrase that would have greatly displeased your mother. The only starter not to be knocked out of commission yet is Bieksa.
Yet here is the Gillis plan - or at least back-up plan - in motion. Cut SOB's drama and cap hit, bring in a project player in Ryan Parent for depth. If that trips up, then many of his quiet excursions into the NCAA or European Elite ranks could be the fall back. I don't think he could have predicted how smoothly some of these transitions to the NHL have become.
Though he raised some eyebrows coming in, Christopher Tanev is averaging 13 and half minutes per game. Vigneault is shielding him from the big guys but he's still quietly working well alongside Ballard (who never leaves the defensive zone anyway so there's some trial by fire). He only has two hits, a handful of blocked shots and three takeaways, but he's also found his way onto the special teams and even Ballard has said he's helped his game; not bad for a guy who only played half a season in the AHL.
Lee Sweatt is a different player; like Tanev he's shielded and maintains a similar TO,I but as the more offensive of the two, has two points in three games on four shots. Sweatt and partner Ehrhoff (on opposite ends of the Corsi spectrum) have given Vancouver a different offensive make-up; Sweatt reads the ice very well, from his jump in the rush to score the game winner in Nashville to last night where Hansen buried a rebound off his shot early in the second. Sweatt can also hit and has been credited with a few shotblocks (6) as well. As you know, Sweatt's road to the NHL wasn't a time tested one either.
It's good to have these types of problems, especially in light of the horrific problems with the blueline last season. Rather than buckle at the first tremor of injuries, the corps has held tight with the top guys (Juice, Hammer, Hoff, Ballard) bearing the brunt of the storm while their younger counterparts get their feet wet. Despite the negatives (some bad passes, Rudy's size, Tanev's trepidation of taking the body) it's hard to find a better outcome with so many new faces on the roster.
As Jeff Tambellini knows full well, part of the success this season has been knowing your role. So if you're AV and eye a healthy Alberts and/or Aaron Rome close to returning, do you ride the hot hand you have now or inject that experience back into the pairings?