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New pairing of Giordano and Tanev has proved an excellent partnership

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

It's all about finding the right mix.

For months, Noah Hanifin went out of his way to applaud the efforts of others. Chris Tanev, he said, played a key role in helping him get to the next level - and, together, they formed one of the elite partnerships in the NHL.

But with Hanifin elevating his game and reaching for new career benchmarks, Head Coach Darryl Sutter suddenly has options that didn't exist previously on the backend.

"I think Noah was ready to handle his own pair," the skipper said - which, in Sutter speak, is a mountainous helping of praise.

The result?

Mark Giordano has put in a shutdown role with Tanev.

And the early returns have been superb.

"I think, obviously, they bring a lot of experience," the coach reckoned. "That lefty-righty combo with that experience - not just on the penalty kill, but playing at critical times in games together - seemed to be a logical choice to put them back together."

"I just think Gio is the best defenceman on our team and one of the best in the league. I just felt he was being a little bit - not handcuffed - but a little held back in being able to play his whole game playing with a younger defenceman and basically covering him up a lot.

"It freed him up more to put him with a veteran who can calm things down a lot. They're both 20-plus-minute guys and Gio will get the extra minutes (on the) powerplay.

"But if you're not a high-scoring team, you need a pair that can stabilize your defencemen. We went from having to spread out our defence, to putting our best ones together and then giving Noah some extra responsibility by finding the right guy for him."



Giordano has points (6) in four of his last five games, and multi-point efforts in two of his last three - including a pair of goals.

The amount of ice time hasn't changed a whole lot, but the responsibility has.

With Tanev, the Flames' No.-1 pair has only a 33.33% offensive zone-start percentage over the past three games.

That's a healthy dose of the opponent's best weaponry.

So, what's led to the increase in offence, with 'G' leading the way on this road trip?

It's the 'mix' - or, a complementary skill-set - that's allowed both players to flourish.

"You go out there and you try to help your partner, try to make your partner better," Tanev said. "There are situations where they can help you, and situations where you can help them. … You've got to work together and be a partner.

"I mean, you're called defensive partners for a reason, so going out there and doing everything you can to help your partner succeed is a big deal for me."

Tanev, certainly, has been a giant for the Flames this year. So, while he's been able to focus more on the defensive side of the puck, players with more of an offensive pedigree - like Giordano, or Hanifin before him - can have confidence that their partner is back covering for them.

That makes both players' lives easy when it comes to communicating and executing properly at speed.

It's all about thinking less and relying more on your instincts to play at a pace that Sutter demands.




"I'm trying to do the same thing every game," Tanev said. "Gio has such a great shot, so you try to get him the puck as much as you can.

"He shoots to score. You see when he scores how fired up he gets. Every time he shoots the puck, he thinks it's going to go in.

"It's the right mindset to have and he has a terrific shot to back it up."

Giordano and Tanev have played a ton together on the PK this year - almost three minutes per game - so isn't as if they're experimenting with something totally new.

Having seen Giordano up close over the past year, along with the decade-plus Tanev spent as his opponent, there aren't many surprises anymore.

Just that the captain - at 37 years old - is still one of the best.  

"When you play against him, you see all the little things that the outside world maybe doesn't, "Tanev said. "You gain that appreciation.

"He's such a good player.

"He does everything, does it all the time, and does it for 60 minutes."

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