NHL: 10 Best 1-2 Punches Heading into 2012-13

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2012

NHL: 10 Best 1-2 Punches Heading into 2012-13

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    Every team wants a superstar player to arouse their fandom and create exciting moments.

    However, if you are serious about winning, it's about having a combination of players who can both feed off each other and take the pressure off one another in the course of a game or a playoff series. When opposing teams face teams with at least two superstars, they can't focus their game plan on any one player. They have to slow down two players instead of stopping one.

    It rarely works.

    Perhaps the best combination in the post-expansion era was Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in Edmonton. That duo helped the Oilers become an explosive dynasty in the mid-1980s. The pairing of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh was also sensational.

    In most cases, we think of a 1-2 punch as two great offensive players that can dominate the scoreboard. However, it can also include two shutdown defensemen or two goaltenders who can cut the heart out of opposing offensive attacks.

    Here's a look at the 10 best 1-2 punches heading into the upcoming season.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Sidney Crosby's concussion-related problems have kept him from being at the top of his game for quite a while, but the Penguins believe they will have a healthy superstar for a full season.

    When Crosby is healthy, he is a highly skilled player who can get his shots away with quickness and deadly accuracy. Malkin may be even more gifted than Crosby. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player and the Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer last season.

    When both Crosby and Malkin are at the top of their game, it becomes nearly impossible to shut down the Pittsburgh attack. Both are No. 1 centers, and they may be the two best at that position in the league.

Brad Richards and Rick Nash, New York Rangers

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    The biggest problem that the Rangers had last year was their inability to produce consistently on offense.

    That issue didn't come back to bite New York until they faced the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. They had a hard time keeping up with Zach Parise and couldn't dent Martin Brodeur enough to get to the Stanley Cup Final.

    The addition of Rick Nash to the lineup should change the mindset in New York. While Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik formed a solid 1-2 punch for New York, the Rangers didn't have enough supporting players to create more opportunities.

    Gaborik will be slowed at the start of the season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery (source: New York Post). By the time he returns, Richards and Nash should be lighting it up. They'll get support from young stars like Chris Kreider, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan.

    The Rangers will have nights where they score goals in bunches and that will make them very difficult to stop this year.

Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers

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    While most hockey fans will give the edge to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, you won't find them in Philadelphia.

    The Flyers fans and coaching staff believe that Claude Giroux is as good as either of the Penguins superstars. Giroux is an extremely creative player who uses his balance, skating ability and intelligence to find openings that result in bona fide scoring opportunities.

    Giroux finished the 2011-12 season with 28 goals and 65 assists and was the third-leading scorer in the league. There's no reason to think he won't exceed 100 points this year.

    Hartnell is not the brilliant skater that Giroux is, often known for falling down several times in a game (source: TheHockeyWriters.com). But one thing Hartnell can do is establish position in the offensive zone and rip off high, hard shots to the corners of the net. Hartnell had 37 goals and 30 assists last season and often comes through in big games.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

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    Daniel and Henrik Sedin are often ridiculed and disrespected outside of Vancouver.

    The Swedish twins may not get all the credit they deserve as hockey players because neither one is likely to toss his gloves and start throwing punches.

    However, while they may not fit the definition of old school hockey players, they are two of the most creative players in the league and have the skill to score goals in bunches. The Canucks have not won a Stanley Cup, but they have consistently been near the top of the league and have been a first-place team in the Northwest Division for the last four years.

    Anytime you watch the Sedins play together, you can see their bond on the ice. Passes are made to spots where the other brother will be and that allows the most beautiful combination plays imaginable.

    Few teammates have ever had the rhythm that the Sedin brothers have when working the offensive zone. Daniel Sedin had 30 goals and 67 points in 72 games last year while Henrik had 14 goals and 81 points in 2011-12. Henrik seems more content to pass the puck and set up his teammates while Daniel has the tendency to rip shots at the net. Daniel has scored 71 goals the last two seasons.

Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks

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    The first pair that comes to mind when thinking about the Blackhawks' two most important offensive players is Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

    However, Kane's off-the-ice issues (source: ESPNChicago.com) and Hossa's all-around ability elevates him to a higher position in the Blackhawks' hierarchy.

    When both players are healthy, Toews and Hossa are two excellent all-around players. Toews is solid in the defensive zone, is perhaps the best face-off man in the league and he scores important goals on a consistent basis.

    Hossa is a powerful player that simply cannot be stopped when he goes to the net with a head of steam and the inclination to create a scoring opportunity. Hossa was felled by a Raffi Torres head shot in last year's playoffs. While he may be tentative at the start of the season, once he gets a few games under his belt he should be in top form again.

Jason Spezza and Erick Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

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    The Ottawa Senators were a mess in the 2010-11 season. They were one of the worst teams in hockey and few believed that removing Cory Clouston from the head coaching slot and replacing him with Paul MacLean would turn things around.

    MacLean proved to be the right coach for the Senators as they stopped sulking and feeling sorry for themselves and regularly played with fervor and a mean streak. However, a coach can only do so much.

    The Senators got a huge boost from the play of high-scoring defenseman Erik Karlsson, who scored 78 points and triggered the Ottawa offense. Of course, Karlsson did not do it by himself. Veteran center Jason Spezza scored 34 goals and 50 assists and the pair helped the Senators earn an unexpected playoff spot. They should be back in the postseason again this year.

Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

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    Joe Thornton has been known for his playoff failures—especially early in his career with the Boston Bruins—as he is for his dominating ability.

    However, Thornton has proven to be among the most consistent scorers in the league for the last decade and one of the beneficiaries has been teammate Patrick Marleau. When Thornton has the puck on his stick and is on the move up ice, he excels at tape-to-tape passes that allow his teammates excellent scoring opportunities.

    Few players have taken advantage of those chances better than Marleau. In the highlight accompanying this slide, Thornton led a quick counterattack in a 2010 playoff game against the Detroit Red Wings and hit Marleau with a perfect pass that he turned into a memorable overtime goal.

    These two have combined for huge plays throughout their run in San Jose.

Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, Boston Bruins

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    When the Boston Bruins want to shut down their opponents, head coach Claude Julien does not waste any time.

    He pairs defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg together and dares opponents to try and work up an attack (source: NHL.com). The Bruins employed those two defensemen together regularly during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs and the Bruins won four memorable rounds and lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1972.

    Chara is one of the best defensemen in the game and is a Norris Trophy winner. Seidenberg is tough, physical and an underrated athlete. No pair of defensemen works better together in big games than this duo.

Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Steven Stamkos is one of the most explosive scorers in the league. He has exceeded the 50-goal mark in two of the last three seasons and reached 60 goals last season. Stamkos does it with rare skating speed, a high level of conditioning and an array of shots.

    Teammate Martin St. Louis is one of the most creative players in the league. While St. Louis is regularly dwarfed by many of the defenders that he faces, he never lets his lack of size—5'8" and 176 pounds—deter him when he has the puck in the offensive zone.

    The Lightning failed to make the playoffs in 2011-12 after making the Eastern Conference Finals the year before. Look for the duo of Stamkos and St. Louis to lead the Lightning back to the postseason this year.

Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues

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    A year ago, the St. Louis goalie tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak would not have been on this list. If a goalie duo would have made the 10 best 1-2 punches, it would most likely have been Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.

    However, even if Thomas had not decided to take the 2012-13 season off, Elliott and Halak would have wrested the position from the Bruins' duo. Elliott and Halak are consistently spectacular in the net, capable of making the initial save, the rebound save and then directing the puck out of harm's way.

    The Blues gave up a league-low 165 goals last season. Elliott had a 1.56 goals against average and nine shutouts last season while Halak had a 1.97 GAA and six shutouts.

    There are few off-nights when opponents face the St. Louis goaltending duo.