Ben Eager has one point and 41 penalty minutes in 10 playoff games this spring. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Sometimes when life is at its darkest and fate seems to have turned against you, only the crazy survive. And true, the San Jose Sharks have yet to play a home game in the Western Conference final, but they are down 2-0 to Vancouver and the second match was worse than the first. Los Tiburones are not trending up, you could say.
So a change in tack may be required. May I humbly suggest - and I know it sounds a little wacky - more Ben Eager?
Fair play, the rugged right winger spent more time in the penalty box than Vancouver’s Windex guy in Game 2, but he also drove the Canucks to distraction and scored a goal. In the grand scheme of things, offensive contributions from the big lug are gravy, but if Eager can cut down on the minor penalties, he has a chance to turn this series in favor of The Teal.
And for the fourth-liner to find his motivation, he needs only to look at tape from his old team’s battles against Vancouver. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Canucks last season thanks to Dustin Byfuglien driving Roberto Luongo mad, then they nearly crushed the gentle spirits in British Columbia earlier in this Stanley Cup tournament when Dave Bolland reprised his role as ‘The Rat’ in Games 4-7. Long story short, the Canucks have proven to be a team that is easily driven to distraction.
Coach Alain Vigneault is already engaging in a war of words with San Jose colleague Todd McLellan and while charges of cowardice are being leveled against Vancouver’s players by the Sharks, Eager has the ability to grab the “Most Irritating” trophy away from Canucks agitator Maxim Lapierre.
The most effective way Eager can do that is to continue to play on the edge and realize he must be careful about going over, because the refs are aware of his shenanigans. But finishing his checks hard and getting in Luongo’s grill will undoubtedly raise the Canucks’ ire.
A best-case scenario, if we’re going to be all Machiavellian/Art of War here, is for Eager to take defenseman Kevin Bieksa off his game. Bieksa has been excellent for the Canucks lately, putting up three points in the first two games against San Jose, throwing stiff checks and laying a beating on Patrick Marleau when the Sharks star engaged him in a fight.
Eager has claimed that Bieksa refused to drop the gloves with him several times earlier in the game, in what would have been a much more fair tilt. But if the Sharks bruiser is going to help his team, he needs to bring the fight to Bieksa, literally.
Though he can score a little, Eager is essentially an enforcer and if he were to continue taking liberties with the Sedin twins or Luongo, who among the Canucks could stop him? Maybe Raffi Torres is an option, but the most evenly matched partner other than Bieksa would be Tanner Glass - and he didn’t play in Game 2. Plus, despite Eager’s 20 minutes in penalties, he still played nearly 11 minutes in the second game of the series, much more than the six minutes Glass earned in Game 1. So the chance for mayhem unchecked rises dramatically if Glass is your answer.
Bieksa, on the other hand, plays big minutes and has a bit of a fuse. So far the blueliner has played it smart and the Canucks have come out on top. If Eager wants to do his part in turning this series around for San Jose, he needs to ratchet up the intimidation and only go to the box if he takes Bieksa with him.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and his Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter on twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.