Ranking the 10 Best Defensive Pairings in the 2014-15 NHL Season So Far

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistNovember 5, 2014

Ranking the 10 Best Defensive Pairings in the 2014-15 NHL Season So Far

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    NHL teams rely heavily on their best players to do the heavy lifting in important moments of each game. Those moments might include own-zone faceoffs, matching up against the opposition's best forwards, or playing the last minutes of a close game.

    Some NHL teams have a major advantage in this area, as they are able to play their top pairing close to 30 minutes each game and in all situations. True top pairings are extremely rare and incredibly valuable.

    Here are the 10 best defensive pairings in the NHL so far in the 2014-15 season.

10. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, New York Islanders

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pairing: Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk were last-minute additions to the 2014-15 New York Islanders. The two veterans were thrust together and have been effective in their new city and role.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? The Islanders have been employing them against mid-level competition with a zone-start push. 

    How Important Are They? The big payoff for the pairing has been Boychuk's exceptional performance early this season on the power play. Both men are impacting the team's offense and helping with a solid overall performance.

9. Dougie Hamilton and Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    The Pairing: Dougie Hamilton and Zdeno Chara have been an effective pairing—when healthy—for the Boston Bruins. Dennis Seidenberg has jumped in this season when Chara is unavailable. 

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? Boston is using the tandem as a tough minutes and tough zone starts combination. They have been very effective in possession, and even more impressive when considering the circumstances.

    How Important Are They? The Bruins are at a crossroads with many of their veteran players as they transition away from the group who contributed heavily to the 2011 Stanley Cup victory. Hamilton's emergence as a top-pairing option is very good news for Boston.

8. Matt Carle and Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Pairing: Matt Carle and Anton Stralman are a new pairing and have been effective early in 2014-15 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their possession numbers are impressive this year.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? The Lightning are running the duo against softer competition but giving them tougher zone starts.

    How Important Are They? The pairing leads Tampa Bay in time-on-ice per game and have had a large impact on the team's success. It's worth mentioning that Stralman leads NHL defensemen in plus-minus in 2014-15.

7. Andy Greene and Damon Severson, New Jersey Devils

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    The Pairing: Andy Greene has been an effective defender for almost 500 games, many with recently departed Mark Fayne. This season, rookie Damon Severson stepped in, and the pairing has flourished.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? The Devils are using the duo against mid-level competition, preferring to deploy them as a tough zone-start combination. They have been successful in the role. 

    How Important Are They? Defending own-zone starts is a major issue for NHL teams, as offense often results in the period immediately following the faceoff. Greene and Severson are a new pairing but are thriving in an important role for New Jersey.

6. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Brian Kersey/Associated Press

    The Pairing: Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks have played a lot together over the last seven years. They are considered the heart and soul of the defense and have enjoyed good health during their time together.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? The 'Hawks employ the pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya in that role with great success. The Keith-Seabrook duo slaughters the competition in possession against lesser opponents and gives Chicago an edge.

    How Important Are They? Chicago relies on Keith and Seabrook to push the puck up the ice at even strength, and their possession stats suggest the pairing remains a major success. They also help out offensively, especially with the man advantage this season.

5. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Pairing: Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin are an effective pairing for the Minnesota Wild. They struggled with possession a year ago, but they are among the league's best this season.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? Minnesota is employing the duo in a more offensive role, giving them easier competition and zone starts in an effort to drive results.

    How Important Are They? This season Minnesota is getting terrific even-strength production from them, a rarity for defensemen. The power-play numbers are disappointing and are an area that needs improvement.

4. Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pairing: Kris Letang and and Olli Maatta are a fun tandem to watch and match the free-flowing Pittsburgh Penguins perfectly. Their possession stats have been splendid this year.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? The Penguins give this tandem a big zone-start push, but they face the toughest competition available. The advantage in possession added to the offensive numbers suggests Maatta and Letang are having a successful season.

    How Important Are They? Letang and Maatta can wheel with the gifted offensive forwards in Pittsburgh and play defense well enough to cover their own end. It has been a major positive this season.

3. Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, Calgary Flames

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    Gerry Thomas/Getty Images

    The Pairing: Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie are an outstanding tandem for the Calgary Flames. As a pairing, they are at 48 percent of even-strength possession, while the Flames are at 43 percent. That represents a massive gap, reflective of the quality of this duo.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? Giordano and Brodie face tough zone starts and the best available opposition every night. In real terms, it would be almost impossible to increase the degree of difficulty for them.

    How Important Are They? They lead the Flames in everything. Brodie and Giordano lead in time-on-ice, total points and power-play points in Calgary. The Flames are one of the surprise teams in 2014-15, and much of the credit goes to Giordano and Brodie.

2. Roman Josi and Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Pairing: Roman Josi and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators are one of the true workhorse pairings in the NHL. They are near the top in time-on-ice per game and are a formidable combination.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? The Predators use them to face tough competition and punishing zone starts. They are by definition a shut-down pairing.

    How Important Are They? Nashville can employ this duo for half the game and in the toughest situations available. In doing so, it frees the rest of the roster to impact the game against lesser opponents. That's a massive item for NHL teams.

1. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, Los Angles Kings

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Pairing: Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin are developing into an effective combination for the Los Angeles Kings. Since the 2012-13 season, the pairing has enjoyed a great deal of success.

    Are They Playing Tough Minutes? The key is Doughty, who is among the leaders in time-on-ice this season. He and Muzzin are winning the possession numbers facing mid-level competition. 

    How Important Are They? Doughty's ability to push the river with Muzzin allows Los Angeles to spread out their defensive strengths in a trying season. Robyn Regehr and the Doughty-Muzzin pairing have been vital to the Kings this year.