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On the Defence

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

By Josh Plummer

At the start of the season, most hockey scribes and Canuck fans were concerned about the lack of depth and experience on the Vancouver blueline.

The loss of Ed Jovanovski, Bryan Allen and trade deadline pick-ups Keith Carney and Eric Weinrich left many wondering who would play the remaining minutes behind veterans Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo.

"We need to be better in certain areas and most of those areas are in our own end," GM Dave Nonis said before the season began. "We'll play a more responsible style, but that doesn't mean we're going to trap."

Nonis made steps towards a more responsible defensive style by signing free agent Willie Mitchell as his number three defender - but roster spots on the blueline still remained to be filled.

Kevin Bieksa, Lukas Krajicek, and a rotation of Patrick Coulombe, Alexander Edler and Nathan McIver have stepped in to fill the defensive void, while Rory Fitzpatrick has provided much needed experience.

Vancouver has now hit the quarter pole and ironically enough, the depth and inexperience on the blueline hasn't been an issue at all - in fact, the Canucks rank 6th overall in goals against per game (2.48) and 2nd in shots against per game (20.6).

Vancouver's overall style of play is distinguished by a contagious work ethic in all three zones, requiring forwards to hustle back on every play and defensemen to join the rush to eliminate the spreading of players on the ice.

"The hardest teams to play against in this league are the teams that have a tight gap between their forwards and their defense," said assistant coach Rick Bowness.

"There's just no time or room out there because of the gap. The forwards all have to backcheck really hard and the defense have to be very aggressive chasing the puck up the ice. The defense and the forwards have to work together very closely."

Both the forwards and defense can take credit for the low goals against and shot totals - but Bieksa and Krajicek have been pleasant surprises on a team with so many defensive question marks at the beginning of the season.

Bieksa is averaging 21:15 of ice-time and playing with a gritty edge reminiscent of NHL veteran Chris Chelios - he's calm with the puck in his own zone, makes excellent outlet passes and doesn't let opposing forwards get away with much in the Vancouver zone.

Bowness is quick to praise the 25 year-old who played 39 games with the Canucks last year.

"You love the way he competes," said Bowness. "He moves the puck very well and he has a great shot from the point. It's low, it's heavy and he gets it on net. He also has good hockey sense and has played tough - all the little things you want done, he's done."

Bieksa ranks third in scoring amongst Canucks defensemen with 3-4-7 and showed true team toughness last game versus the Blackhawks when he came to the aid of Ryan Kesler after Kesler was taken heavily into the boards by Karl Stewart.

Little was known about Krajicek when he came to Vancouver from Florida along with Roberto Luongo - but since arriving, the 23 year-old is averaging 21:53 of ice-time and even scored the overtime winner against the Nashville Predators on October 21st.

Krajicek is an offensively minded defenseman with a smooth skating stride and is always quick to join the rush - he's fired 32 shots on goal so far this season.

Assistant General Manager Steve Tambellini has seen plenty of Krajicek at the International level and he likes the skills the Czechoslovakian brings to the table in today's new game.

"He represents the type of player that you really need in the modern day NHL," said Tambellini. "Guys that have the mobility and guys that don't just see the obvious play, but create something that's not there. He's shown that he can look people off and make a nice play."

Combine the blue collar work ethic deployed by every player on the ice with the stellar goaltending of Roberto Luongo and the goals and shots against should remain at manageable levels for the Canucks this season.

You can bet Bieksa and Krajicek will continue to do their part in eliminating offensive chances - it's the one thing hockey scribes and Canuck fans don't have to be concerned about.

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