In chemistry, a binary compound is—apparently —a chemical compound which is made up of only two elements. Your humble contributor, however, wishes to note right up front that he was never any good at chemistry. As such, he shouldn't be regarded as anything like a reliable source on the subject. He is way more comfortable examining concepts of a simpler nature—like potential pairings on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster.
Binary compounds, if you will.
Now, if one were attempting to locate a binary compound in hockey, where would one look first? Behind the blue line, maybe? But in front of the crease, right? Bingo. And the reason is pretty obvious:
In the NHL, defensemen work in pairs . Exclusively.
But, for all of the added attention which gets placed upon defensive pairings in this league, prosperous pairings can exist at any number of points across the full spectrum of an NHL roster.
The idea here will be to take a closer look at a handful of player pairings, which seem to hold some promise for the Lightning as they begin to slog their way into the heart of the season. One thing—and one thing only —has been taken into consideration:
These two players aren't exactly strangers. By now, each is very familiar with the other's style of play. They have spent enough time together on the power play that a basic level of chemistry is unavoidable. As such, it should come as no surprise that these two have begun to show a little chemistry in other scenarios.
In particular, one moment during Saturday night's loss to Buffalo stands out:
Lecavalier and Malone found themselves on the ice together during the second period, attempting to kill a penalty. At a certain point, Vinnie grabbed the puck close to his own blue line and immediately doubled back. He had determined that, rather than simply dumping the puck, the best course of action would be to play keep-away for as long as possible.
Malone, along the boards and closer to center-ice, recognized what Vinnie was trying to do, and immediately provided Vinnie with an escape route. Malone found space, allowing Vinnie to get rid of the puck when he ran out of options. Malone, in turn—and, again, as opposed to dumping the puck—sprang Vinnie for a short-handed scoring chance.
It was impressive, and was the type of play that stands no chance—and is arguably dangerous , in a man-down situation—if the two players aren't comfortable on the ice with one another.
But Vinnie and Malone were never in any jeopardy of losing the puck, and the instinctive chemistry on display was hard to ignore.
You listening, Mr. Tocchet?
Now, this one isn't quite as obvious. One could argue that Tanguay has no business sharing a line with Halpern. But those who would argue such a thing have likely forgotten that Halpern's jersey in Washington was, for a time, adorned with a "capital" C (terrible pun intended, unfortunately).
The idea being that Halpern is a quality player who, while not necessarily as skilled as some of his teammates, has the hockey-smarts to get the job done. Tanguay also happens to be a thinker. I could see these two engineering some goals which would leave one scratching one's head.
They shared some time on the ice Saturday night, and it was evident that these guys have a similar approach to the game. They are both highly-competitive—yet highly-competent —players who understand the need to play a two-way game. Each is reliable, and responsible. Seems to be a good match, if Tanguay can't find a suitable partner in the upper-tier of the lineup.
To be sure, this pairing was only ever going to happen—at this point in the season, anyway—as an experiment. A team doesn't go out and drop a few-million dollars on a mentor for their young prospect, only to pair said young prospect with a different guy.
And Ohlund is very much Hedman's mentor right now.
Even so, the Walker-Hedman pairing, which made a brief appearance in the third, was as imposing a combo as I've seen on the Bolts' roster in a while. Make no mistake, these are two big guys.
But I like this duo for a number reasons.
Their styles are a perfect match. Walker is a physical, stay-at-home blue liner who is comfortable picking a spot in front of the net, and defending that spot for all 20-or-so minutes he's on the ice. Which isn't to suggest that he can't help out on the offensive side—his shot, for one, would suggest otherwise.
Hedman, by contrast, loves his points. He skates, passes, and stick-handles well, and is instinctively drawn towards the opposing net—like a moth to a street-lamp. Which means he needs a guy like Walker to protect his six o' clock.
Now, Hedman is a little too inexperienced for this pairing to work, right now. He needs to learn to reign in his offensive sensibilities a bit more. Even so, Walker-Hedman seems bound to happen, at some point, on a more consistent basis. And it's almost as though it was destined to happen: Hedman shoots left, while Walker's a righty.
A perfect match. Or binary compound, as it were.
The Bolts don't look quite as bad as their record would suggest. And the preceding pairings are simply those which threw themselves into sharpest relief on Saturday night. To be sure, there are many others. This is a solid roster, with a lot of talent.
Now, if the Tampa-upon-Bay could only get its most important binary compound rocking—ahem, Smith, Niittymaki—positive results would be sure to follow.