Kevin Bieksa is a talker.
He talks on the ice, he talks off the ice, and he banters with almost everyone who crosses his path.
Dan Hamhuis is not a talker.
Quiet and pensive, he's a speak-when-spoken-to type of personality.
When coupled together in preseason as the Vancouver Canucks top defence pair, they did a lot of talking.
They were new to each other and needed to learn each other's tendencies and preferences as quickly as possible. Through the early part of the NHL season, they played Bieksa's communication game, continuing on-ice conversations onto the bench and into the dressing room, to make their partnership as effective as possible.
These days, however, Bieksa and Hamhuis know each other so well, that they don't need to talk as much. And true to Hamhuis form, they don't.
"It's almost gotten to the point now where we don't have to talk much," Bieksa said. "We kind of know if the other guy is going to hold his lane, or chase. We read off each other really well."
In the Western Conference final, the less said about Bieksa and Hamhuis, the better for the Canucks. Because if these defencemen are generating discussion, it will most likely mean they are struggling against the San Jose Sharks' superior group of forwards.
Bieksa and Hamhuis could very well be matched against Joe Thornton's line, especially in the first two games at Rogers Arena, when Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault has last change. But the Sharks are so deep up front that Vancouver's top pair is going to face quality scorers on almost every shift, a stark departure from the last series against the Nashville Predators, a team without a dynamic forward.
"Those guys do it with smarts and … when they're on the ice, we don't spend a lot of time in our end," Vigneault said when asked about Bieksa and Hamhuis. "They can beat the fore-check and break out of our zone a little bit quicker, so instead of being in defensive-zone coverage, we're more in breakout mode. They've done a great job of that for us, and they're going to have to continue because I think the challenge is going to get bigger here."
The challenges are plentiful for Bieksa and Hamhuis, particularly given the vast array of skill sets the Sharks forwards bring to the table. There's Thornton, the oversized setup man who is strong on the puck and likes to possess it. There's Dany Heatley, the quick strike goal-scorer who finds the quiet areas in the offensive zone, and unleashes precision shots. And there's big Ryane Clowe working the net-front area, an immovable 225-pound winger who could make goaltender Roberto Luongo's life miserable.
Add Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski to the mix, and San Jose has danger spread across three lines. "They are all big, strong guys who can move the puck and skate," Bieksa said.
Christian Ehrhoff and defence partner Alexander Edler will also have to do their part, although they've been bypassed by Bieksa and Hamhuis as Vigneault's preferred choice.
Bieksa and Hamhuis average nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game, while Ehrhoff and Edler average one to two minutes less. In the regular season, those numbers were reversed.
But don't tell Bieksa the extra ice-time means he and Hamhuis have become Vancouver's "shutdown" pair this spring. He's a talker, after all, and he is willing to debate the point in defence of the duo's offensive capabilities.
"I'm not a huge fan of labels," he said. "I'd prefer we be called a 'complete pairing' or 'two complete defencemen.' I don't like being called just a 'shutdown guy' because I feel that both of us can contribute at both ends of the rink.
"But obviously, we take a lot of pride in keeping the other team's best line off the score sheet. It's a big part of the job."