EDMONTON – It’s been about a year since defensemen Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser were permanently paired on the Red Wings’ blue line.
The two compliments each other like a good defensive tandem should. Quincey is a prototypical defensive defenseman, hard to play against, while DeKeyser is a solid puck-mover, who can thread a breakout pass through the head of a needle.
The top-four pair isn’t thought of as the Red Wings’ best defensive unit – that distinction usually is reserved for Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson – however, coach Mike Babcock is extremely satisfied with the way Quincey and DeKeyser have played this season.
“I think the best pair we have on the team right now is DeKeyser and Quincey, the steadiest pair each and every day, the two guys playing the best,” Babcock said. “I just think they’re been really solid, the two of them. They seem to play well together. Quincey kills penalties and plays hard and is heavy and is making simple plays. DeKeyser moves the puck. They’ve been our steadiest pair.”
Since last Christmas, both blue liners have posted plus-10 ratings. Prior to the last December’s union, Quincey was a minus-14 as the coaching staff tried to find the right combinations amidst a bevy of injuries that jumbled the pairings.
“We maybe look a little different but we’re similar in the way we play. I got 60 pounds on him,” Quincey said, laughing. “But other than that I like to jump up when I can and he knows I’m going to jump up. We take our turns. He skates very well. I’m probably a little stronger in the corners. I try to get him in situations where he can skate and I try to take the situations where I’m in the corners battling or in front of the net.”
Chemistry is hugely important, especially among defensemen, who blindly retrieve pucks from deep in their own zone with their backs turned to opposing forwards breathe down their necks. It takes time to create that trusted partnership, but DeKeyser and Quincey seem to be beyond the development stage now.
“The more you play with the same guy the better chemistry you’re going to have,” said DeKeyser, who has two goals and 15 points in 37 games. “You kind of learn some of their tendencies and learn what they like to do on the ice. That way you can kind of react a second ahead of time before the other team does. They throw the puck behind the net, you get their first because you know he’s going to do it, little stuff like that, kind of helps you out.
“I like playing with the same guy all the time because you build chemistry that way. It’s a little tougher to do that when you’re always switching pairings, playing with different people. So far it’s been good we’ve been together over a year now and hopefully that keeps up.”
The Wings don’t get a lot of offense from their defense. In fact, prior to Monday’s NHL schedule, Detroit’s defense ranked tied for 22nd overall in goals scored and tied for 18th in points.
“Our job is not to win the game, it’s to not lose the game,” said Quincey, who has a goal and six points in 35 games. “So minimize our mistakes, give the pucks to the forwards to do what they do and I think we’ve done a really good job minimizing scoring chances against. In the last month I can almost count on one hand how many chances teams have had. That’s a (credit) to our overall system and our overall defense but we enjoy playing with each other and it’s been almost a year now and we’re doing pretty good.”
Both defensemen have played vital roles to the Red Wings’ special teams. DeKeyser has found a home on the power play, quarterbacking the team’s second unit. Quincey has been invaluable as a gritty penalty killer, averaging more than two-minutes of shorthanded ice time per game for the fourth consecutive season.
“It’s huge,” said Kronwall of the chemistry built between Quincey and DeKeyser. “Q’s a guy not a lot of guys want to play against because he’s so heavy and hard on you, and DK is more of a puck-moving guy who’s also solid defensively but maybe plays a little more of a position game than Q. I think they complement each other very well and they’ve been nothing but great for us.”