Amid all the trade chatter, especially involving goalie Roberto Luongo and the overwhelming need for a centre, comes this bit of welcome news for the Vancouver Canucks: their once pressing need for a right-side defenceman isn't so pressing any more.
The Canucks have only two righties on their roster, Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev, so one of their six lefties is required to play his off-side. Alex Edler was deployed there for the first month of the season without great success. Keith Ballard received a few games, too, before the coaching staff opted to give Jason Garrison his shot.
It looks like they found themselves a bingo. Garrison and new partner Dan Hamhuis have come together like a John Lennon song. Both were plus-3 Thursday when the Canucks beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1. Garrison, the Canucks' major free agent acquisition last July, now leads all Vancouver blueliners in plus-minus at plus-12. Tanev is next best at plus-7.
“Jason has been really, really, really efficient,” stated Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault following practice Friday. “For someone who originally had some reserve about playing the right side, he hasn't been awkward at all as far as turning and going back for pucks and finding the outlet pass. He's been really good.”
When Garrison arrived, he was talked up for his booming slapper and his ability to score goals. He had 16 for the Florida Panthers last season and nine on the power play. Not a lot was said about his ability to defend. But, for him, that has always been the priority.
“Obviously going into every game, no one wants to get scored on,” Garrison said before the streaking Canucks departed for Edmonton and Saturday night's date with the Oilers. “That is my biggest thing, to play great defence, which usually leads to offence. Most of my previous experience was on the left side and now being on the right side, I mean, it's different. You're so used to seeing things from the left and now you're seeing things from the right.
“It's a new experience for me but I'm liking it, for sure.”
Skating alongside Hamhuis has hardly been a hardship to Garrison. Hamhuis has played 715 games in the NHL, including playoffs, and is silky smooth on the blueline. When he arrived two seasons ago, he formed an excellent partnership with Bieksa. Now he's doing it with Garrison and guiding him through the twin transitions of a new team and new position.
“We're definitely finding some chemistry with one another and I enjoy playing with Dan,” said Garrison. “He's very reliable, a great player, and he makes my job a lot easier. Support and communication, especially in our own end, are big.”
It is especially noticeable on the breakout where Garrison seems reluctant to play the puck on his backhand up the right wing boards. So he is constantly seeking out Hamhuis for the cross-ice pass, or the reverse.
“I think Jason has adapted really well to the right side,” said Hamhuis. “It's not easy for a defenceman to do. It might have taken us a couple of games to really find our groove together but I think we've been clicking well together as of late. I think I have grown to understand that if he is on his backhand coming up the ice, I have to support him as much as I can by being a little bit behind him and always being there as an outlet.”
The two are a combined plus-10 since they became a pairing and have been an integral part of the Canucks' six-game winning streak in which only six goals have been allowed. Nevertheless, Garrison remained reluctant Friday to declare his adjustment to the Canucks fully complete.
“I think there is more to go, for sure,” he said. “I think every day and every week that goes by I feel more comfortable with what is going on. I'm just glad that I've kind of made a jump past that initial learning curve.”
ICE CHIPS: Defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who has missed seven games with a groin issue, was the lone Canuck who didn't skate at Friday's full team practice. “He'll be fine for Saturday,” Vigneault said... Right wing Zack Kassian (back) said he felt good after practice and is likely to return after missing the last five games and seven of eight... Centre Ryan Kesler (broken foot) remains on crutches and in a walking boot more than four weeks after his 4-6 week diagnosis. “He's in that same window,” said Vigneault. “I think he's having another CT scan here after Easter.”
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