Canucks coach Alain Vigneault shuffles his defensive deck, moves Chris Tanev up for the Stars
DALLAS -- Dan Hamhuis saw it coming and so did just about everyone else who watched the Chicago Blackhawks dissect the defence of the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
"Goals are going to happen, but Chicago could have scored 10 in that game," Hamhuis said Wednesday after coach Alain Vigneault introduced three new defensive pairings at a practice in the town nicknamed, quite appropriately for this occasion, Big D.
Chris Tanev, meet Alex Edler. Jason Garrison, say hello to Keith Ballard, and Kevin Bieksa, remember your old friend Dan Hamhuis?
While Vigneault would not commit to his three new pairings for Thursday night's game here against the Dallas Stars, don't bet against it. Usually, when Vigneault tries something in practice, he goes with it in a game.
The biggest winner on the new defensive depth chart is Tanev, the 22-year-old who calmly just does his job very efficiently. He gets the opportunity to skate alongside Edler.
It may be the quietest defensive pairing in the NHL, but it could also be a good one. The move allows Edler to switch back to the left side, where he is much more comfortable. Edler has struggled defensively at times this season while the Canucks tried play him on the right side.
"He has always played his best hockey on the left, without a doubt," Vigneault said of Edler on Wednesday. "So that has to come into our equation, into our decision-making. Are we a better team with him on the left and somebody else on the right? We'll talk about that tonight and come up with some answers."
The move, if it happens, will mean more minutes for Tanev, who had been playing alongside Keith Ballard on what had been an effective third pairing. Tanev has averaged about 16 minutes a night this season, but could see that bumped to more than 20 playing alongside Edler.
"It's obviously a new partner you have to get used to," the soft-spoken Tanev said. "I haven't played with Alex all that much. But he is such a good player, he skates well, shoots well, he's physical, he's awesome. So it shouldn't be too much of an adjustment."
Tanev continues to impress the Canucks with his poise, his ability to make the good first pass out of his zone and his knack at bouncing off some tough hits on the end boards. He does a lot of little things very well.
"He thinks the game real well, he understands it, he's dependable, he reads the play well when he doesn't have the puck, doesn't get knocked off the puck and in his one-on-one situations, most of the time he'll get it back," Vigneault said of Tanev. "So he's been capable of doing it on a regular basis and trying him with Eddie is something. . .that might be worthwhile looking at."
The biggest loser in this shuffling of the defensive deck is Garrison, the team's big free agent signing last summer who has not been able to contribute much offensively. Garrison was expected to help the Canuck power play, but has been dropped from both units. He only has two points this season and clearly has not completely adjusted to his new surroundings.
"I don't view it as a demotion at all," Garrison said of his new pairing with Ballard. "It's not where I want to be offensively, but it's a work in progress and I just have to keep working at it and try to move forward and keep learning."
Ballard and Garrison played some together in the past while teammates in Florida. With a combined salary of $8.8 million they may be the NHL's most expensive third defensive pairing.
Clearly aware of some of the criticism Garrison has been receiving of late, Vigneault launched a spirited defence of him after Wednesday's practice.
"He's a safe, big defenceman that is good one-on-one and has got an easy first pass and we're happy with how he is playing," Vigneault said. "I think he fits in well on our team. The only transition he might be having is with some of you people (media) building him up and being tough on him. We're happy with what he is bringing. He is bringing an honest effort every night. We have got no complaints."
Like Edler before him, Ballard is being asked to switch to the right side to accommodate Garrison.
"I think for me the biggest change isn't going to be who I am playing with it's moving over to the right side," said Ballard, who lately has been playing his best hockey as a Canuck. "I think I got a lot more comfortable playing over there last year. Around November, I moved over there and played a pretty big stretch of games on the right side and started to feel good. It's just about making the right reads, you see the ice a bit differently. But I think I can adjust to it."
There should not be much adjustment for Bieksa and Hamhuis.
"We have played more with each other than without, so it's fine," Hamhuis said. "We'll get back into it."
During their recent six-game winning streak, the Canucks allowed just six goals against. They have surrendered 10 in their current three-game losing streak. However, they still stand a respectable sixth in goals-against in the NHL, giving up just 2.20 per game.
"The Chicago game was the one that stuck out the most," said Hamhuis, who noted that all the blame cannot be placed on the defence. "I think good defence starts with good offence.
"By turning pucks over in the neutral zone, now they are coming back at us with full speed and we've got bad gaps and it's easier for them to get good chances to score. Defencemen can't get off the ice and guys are tired and that makes it hard. So I think our play with the puck, if it's better, will help our game as a whole."
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