Lydia Cruz’s 2 Minute Minor: In hockey, defencemen carry value on offence
Last week in Two Minute Minor we talked about forward line combinations. And because I believe in equality, I promised to show some love to defence this week. Yes, it’s D-E-F-E-N-C-E if you want to stay true to hockey’s origins slash sound boujee.
“Defense wins championships” is an antiquated colloquialism across sports, but in the NHL the value of a two-way player, a true offensive defencemen, can’t be overstated.
Over the years, defencemen have evolved beyond their strictly stay-at-home origins. Thanks to the play of legends like Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Denis Potvin, the idea of offensive defence emerged, and these days blueliners that can play end to end are not just a hot commodity, they are a necessity for teams in serious pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
In the 2018-19 season, St. Louis Blues captain and defencemen Alex Pietrangelo was the fifth-leading points-scorer on the team through the regular season. He upped his game even more in the postseason, adding 19 points and helping lead the Blues to their first every Stanley Cup championship.
The previous year, the Washington Capitals claimed the trophy with the help of John Carlson, who scored 68 points while playing all 82 regular season games.
The Penguins needed the offensive effort of blueliner Justin Schultz to hoist the Cup in 2016-2017.
You get the picture.
Generating offensive opportunities is one way to keep the puck out of the hands of the opposition and, in essence, play defence. Because hockey is played at such a ridiculously fast, almost continuous pace, it helps to stop looking at offence and defence as two separate entities and start looking at the end of every defensive play as the beginning of an offensive attack.
Ideally defencemen can play offence, even when the other team has the puck.
Of the 20 players that are allowed to suit up for an NHL game, two are goalkeepers and 12 are forwards. That leaves three pairs of defencemen on your bench. Yay remedial math! They follow the same pattern as forward line combinations, in that star players or captains are usually found in the first pairing and will typically spend the most time on the ice.
Defencive pairings can fluctuate based on chemistry between players, but you can bet handedness is a part of the equation, too. If a defenceman is forced to play an off-hand position (like a left-handed defenceman playing on the right side), it will make passing and adjustment more difficult.
According to Corsica Hockey stats, one of the best defencive pairings in hockey right now is Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton, with a combined rating of 78.38. Slavin is left-handed and plays on the left. Hamilton shoots with his right and, you guessed it, plays on the right.
In hockey defence wins championships, sure. But the best defencemen keep the opponent out of the net while creating offensive opportunities of their own.