Rick Nash and Shea Weber
are each 6-foot-4 and combine to weigh 450 pounds.
Yup, they'll do.
Even though Canada was considered the road team by seeding and was not afforded the final change, Babcock still managed to get Nash and Weber to play the right side against Ovechkin just about every time he was on the ice. They shut him down while also getting a goal apiece in Canada's 7-3 win over Russia.
Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards and Scott Niedermayer rounded out the five-man unit that held Russia's top line of Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin off the scoreboard. Malkin is the only one who had a point and the trio combined for nine shots and a minus-6 rating.
"That's the stuff you dream about as a kid, playing in those big situations against the best players in the world," Weber told NHL.com. "It's not an easy task by any means, but I thought we did a good job as a team."
They surely did an incredible job as a unit.
The game plan wasn't to just fend Ovechkin off; it was to stuff his game right back in his face by getting the puck deep and forechecking hard. Toews, Richards and Nash were able to do that and with the comfort and Weber and Niedermayer behind them, they forced Ovechkin, Malkin and Semin to play out of their element.
"Those guys don't want to play defense," Nash said, "so as long as we can keep it in their end, that was our plan."
"We tried to make them play defense against us," added Toews. "I mean, we have skill too. As long as we always had a forward high in their zone and we were able to back-check hard on them we kept that puck. We cycled. We made so many smart plays in the offensive zone. We made it as tough as possible for them to play and keep that puck."
Babcock came up with the matchup after thinking back to the nightmares he has when Detroit plays Nashville. Weber is the only guy he knows of that regularly shuts down Pavel Datsyuk. Nash is usually hard to play against in Columbus, too.
"(Weber) is the one guy that we play against that makes it real hard against Datsyuk," Babcock said. "Pavel is one of the best players I have ever coached and Shea is such a big man that he makes it hard with and without the puck. We really felt that was an important matchup (Wednesday) for us because of his size."
Toews said there was added comfort skating against Ovechkin, Malkin and Semin because Niedermayer and Weber were behind them.
"They are both great skaters," he told NHL.com. "They are physical. They are so smart positionally and you know if you make a mistake they are going to be there to help you out and bail you out."
Niedermayer credited the forwards for making the entire thing work. He said they did a wonderful job controlling the puck.
"They were strong on it, held it as long as they could and scored a goal," Niedermayer told NHL.com. "Obviously that's the best defense when you keep it out of those guys hands because once they get it in there hands they can do some good things with it."
The goal was a thing of beauty, too.
Richards stole the puck from Malkin at the far blue line and pushed it up to Toews. Nash darted down the middle and zipped past Russian defenseman Denis Grebeshkov so fast it looked like he belonged at the Richmond Oval in the speed skating competition.
Toews saw the flash and put the puck right on his tape, allowing Nash to go in along on goalie Evgeni Nabokov. He went down to stack the pads and Nash lifted the puck right over them to give Canada a 3-0 lead 12:55 into the game.
"It's pretty impressive that Mike had the confidence in us to play a shutdown role against those guys," Nash said. "Jonathan and Mike did a great job. Our assignment was to make sure we played a sound game and by doing that we could play good offensively. That's what ended up happening."Contact Dan Rosen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer