The Vancouver Canucks are said to have one of the deepest defences in the National Hockey League and the team’s coaching staff is starting to use it to its advantage.
Canucks associate coach Rick Bowness, who is responsible for running the team’s defence, rode his top-three defencemen of Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis throughout the entire year last season.
In the 2011-12 season, Edler on average logged nearly 24 minutes a game while Bieksa and Hamhuis both skated in excess of 23 minutes. The team’s third pairing, usually consisting of Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard, and Aaron Rome, all averaged less than 17 minutes a night.
This season, the Canucks arguably have six defencemen that are all capable of playing 20 minutes a game on any given team in the NHL. It appears Bowness and the Canucks coaching staff are trying to balance out the minutes on defence.
Granted the first and fourth games of the seasons were “blowouts,” we can see the ice time was spread out relatively evenly among the six defencemen—something that did not happen last season regardless of the score.
In games two and three, which were both closer games that wound up in the shootout , the minutes were not as a balanced overall, but they were between the top-four. Rather than riding only three defencemen like last season, Bowness has the luxury of four this year. There was obvious concern last season about playing Sami Salo too much given his advanced age and the increased exposure to possible injury.
It will be interesting to see how the minutes on defence work out the rest of the season since the Ballard and Tanev pairing is getting stronger and more confident as each game goes by.
With the game out of reach for the Anaheim Ducks and the Canucks on a late third period power play, the coaching staff elected to send out Ballard and Tanev to work the power play. Both players showed poise and patience with the puck on the power play and Tanev managed to unleash a cannon of a one-timer off a Ballard pass for a scoring opportunity.
Based on how well the two worked together, they may find themselves on the power play soon allowing the team to free up Hamhuis and Bieksa to play more of a shutdown role.