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It Takes Two

Sonny and Cher. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul. History is abundant with ground-breaking partners that together wrought far greater achievements than either could have dreamed of on their own. In the NHL, such pairings can carry a team through long stretches by carrying the offensive burden on their combined shoulders. During the 1990's, we saw unstoppable combos such as Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr from the Penguins, Teemu Selanne/Paul Kariya with the erstwhile "Mighty" Ducks, and of course Adam Oates/Brett Hull from the St. Louis Blues. But who are today's most dynamic duos?

My guideline here is to look for players providing the first assist on each others' goals. For example, our top pair, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning, have eighteen such scores. St. Louis has talled 12 goals where Lecavalier has recorded the first assist, while St. Louis has repaid the favor to Lecavalier six times.

Top First-Assist Combos As Of Jan. 17
ComboGoalsScoring Split
St.Louis/Lecavalier, TAM1812/6
Straka/Nylander, NYR1712/5
Zubrus/Ovechkin, WSH1710/7
Hossa/Koslov, ATL179/8
Langkow/Iginla, CGY1610/6
Pominville/Briere, BUF1411/3
Heatley/Spezza, OTT149/5
D. Sedin/H. Sedin, VAN149/5
Blake/Yashin, NYI149/5
Selanne/McDonald, ANA1310/3
Kunitz/Selanne, ANA139/4
Jokinen/Horton, FLA138/5
Gionta/Gomez, NJD137/6

The remarkable thing that jumps out right away is that "Selanne + Any Warm Body" makes a pretty good pairing. Those are the basic results, but I thought I'd add another twist to this scenario. Let's see to what extent these first-assist relationships account for the various pairs' overall output. Taking the Lightning again as an example, Lecavalier and St. Louis have combined for 58 goals, of which 18 have involved one providing the first assist for the other:

Top First-Assist Combos, Sorted By Fraction of Total Scoring
Combo1st AssistsTotal GoalsFraction
D. Sedin/H. Sedin, VAN1422.636
Gionta/Gomez, NJD1328.464
Straka/Nylander, NYR1739.436
Pominville/Briere, BUF1436.389
Blake/Yashin, NYI1436.389
Zubrus/Ovechkin, WSH1744.386
Langkow/Iginla, CGY1642.381
Hossa/Koslov, ATL1746.370
Jokinen/Horton, FLA1337.351
Selanne/McDonald, ANA1341.317
St.Louis/Lecavalier, TAM1858.310
Heatley/Spezza, OTT1447.298
Kunitz/Selanne, ANA1347.277

This is where I think we see the difference between paired players who merely have lots of success on the ice and happen to be in the same place at the same time, and those who truly rely on each other for goal scoring. In particular, the Sedin twins' results are eye-popping. They only have 22 combined goals, but almost two-thirds involve one twin directly providing the play for the other to score! Perhaps one lesson out of this is that if opposing teams can lock up one of the players who rank highly on this list, it might fare badly for their partner as well, as they may be particularly reliant on each other to make the overall offense flow.

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