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Mirtle: How Team Canada has begun to shorten its bench

Canada's Sidney Crosby and head coach Mike Babcock (R) participate in their men's team ice hockey practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 12, 2014.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

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Lines, lines, the talk is all about the lines.

Team Canada may be undefeated going into Wednesday's quarter-finals, but there is a great deal of attention on the forwards and who's playing with who, which is only natural given defencemen have generated six of the team's 11 goals so far.

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Canadian coach Mike Babcock has already stated that he will again shake up his line combinations in the game against the winner of Switzerland-Latvia, but what's interesting is that he has already begun to make a major in change in how he has doled out ice time.

Canada's first two games were really tune-ups, with facing minnows Norway and Austria giving Babcock and his staff time to test different forwards together until finding a chemistry they liked.

That meant rolling four lines for the most part, and everyone received an average of roughly 12 to 16 minutes in each game.

But that changed on Sunday against Finland, and we can expect that to continue.

Here's a look below at average ice time in Games 1 and 2 as compared to Game 3:

As you can see, almost all of Canada's main forwards received more ice time in the third game than they had previously, with six different forwards getting two to six extra minutes as Babcock leaned on certain players.

Jeff Carter was the biggest beneficiary, as after his hat trick against Austria, he played nearly 18 minutes, second on the team to only Jonathan Toews. Jamie Benn similarly received an extra six minutes, while Patrice Bergeron got a boost of about half that.

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For the first time, though, there was a real NHL-like hierarchy to the lines. Marleau – Toews – Carter and Benn – Crosby – Bergeron were the designated first and second units, eating up an average of about 17 minutes apiece.

Perry – Getzlaf – Duchene, meanwhile, were slightly behind at about 14 minutes.

The biggest difference, however, was the bottom three forwards, who all played under 10 minutes, spending a lot more time on the bench. Rick Nash was last in ice time and clearly the 13th forward with only seven minutes, followed by Chris Kunitz (eight minutes) and Patrick Sharp (10 minutes).

John Tavares was then a rover of sorts, jumping in on other lines and getting 13 minutes that way.

While Babcock may still be fiddling with his combinations, he is also starting to settle in on some favourites based on how they've played, and when we get into the elimination games, that'll be even more apparent.

All that shuffling up front is in contrast to what's happened on the blueline, where Canada has quickly settled on three pairings and started to ride the top six (and primarily the top four) even more in Game 3:

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The minutes for Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo and Drew Doughty against Finland were all between 19.5 and 23.5, which is getting close to what they'd be accustomed to in the NHL.

Dan Hamhuis and PK Subban are likely not going to get a lot of ice time the rest of the way as the bench shortens even more in elimination games.

Follow me on Twitter: @mirtle

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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