April 2, 2016: Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock watches the Detroit Red Wings warm upat Air Canada Centre. (Photo by Dan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire)
Nichols Notes

Babcock explains tactical specifics of left-right balance on defense

(Dan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire)

Head coach Mike Babcock put his Team Canada charges through the paces Monday, readying the roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

During the scrum afterward, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun shared with Babcock fans’ questioning of why the likes of a P.K. Subban or a Kris Letang or a Brent Seabrook weren’t selected to the team’s deep blueline.

Noting the success Babcock has had employing a balance between the left and right sides on defense, LeBrun sought to hear tactical specifics of the bench boss’s philosophy.

“It’s just a simple thing like a d-zone faceoff when they bump the puck over and you go from a left-hand shot to a left-hand shot, he’s on his backhand,” explained Babcock. “What does he do with the puck? He rims it around the wall.

“When the puck comes up to the blueline and you’re playing your offside, what does the d-man do with the puck? He rims it back down. Well, we just worked hard to get it not rimmed back down. The right-hander puts it across the top or shoots a one-timer.

“In the neutral zone – so this is the third thing I’m telling you – when it goes d-to-d, and the wide side guy is wide open and you can put a laser on his tape and it gets space, now what do you do? Well, you don’t go in the middle on your backhand, because you’re scared shitless. So what do you do? You bang it off the glass and give it to them, when you comes back.

“So every one was about giving it to them.”

Babcock paused a moment and then – with impeccable timing – wrapped up his thought with a pretty little bow that elicited laughter from the assembled media.

“There’s a couple of things.”

Last week, Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong explained choosing Jay Bouwmeester as Duncan Keith’s replacement when the latter had to pull out of the tournament to allow his right knee more time to heal.

“We got together with the coaching staff and management staff and went over all of the different options,” said Armstrong. “I was very fortunate to have three guys on the management staff that have played over 1000 games at that position in Marc Bergevin, Bob Murray, and Rob Blake. Then Joel Quenneville (with) obviously over 800 games, and what he’s done as a coach.

“So we went over the idea of adding an additional right-handed defenseman. The problem is there’s not a lot of right-handed defensemen in the league in general, so you see a lot of left guys that can slide over and play the right. But you don’t see many guys on the right that can slide over and play the left.

“And we were just a little bit nervous going into the tournament that if we lost another left-handed defenseman – and we only started with two – we’d have two guys playing their off-side with no experience. We just felt the reward wasn’t worth the risk of doing that.

“So we went with the more traditional three left Ds and four righties, and there’s some really good players on the left side. We narrowed it down to Bouwmeester. I think partly Mike is very comfortable working with Jay. Working with him at the last Olympics. I know him very well. And he does have some synergy with Pietrangelo; if that’s the way the coach wants to go.

“But certainly Bouw made it on his own merits. What he’s done in international events. He’s a great skater. He can kill plays. We think he’ll be a really good benefit to our group of seven.”

Source: Sportsnet, TSS/ Transcript: Nichols

Babcock explains tactical specifics of left-right balance on defense

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