Here are the top five LA Kings defensive pairings in the last ten years.
Last week, I reviewed the top five producing LA Kings forward lines in the last ten years. Some were quite fond of the trip down memory lane. So, I decided to follow up the fun project with a shift to the blueline.
Throughout the last decade, the LA Kings have been a team that focused on the defensive side of the game. And some defensive pairings played vital roles in the cup wins of 2012 and 2014.
Thanks to Evolving-Hockey.com, let’s take a look at some of those pairs by ranking the top five in the last ten years.
#5 Ben Hutton – Matt Roy (2019-20)
I’m sure number five on the list will catch a few of you by surprise.
Even though I believe Matt Roy deserved a little more love in the Calder Trophy vote for his performance during the 2019-20 season, seeing the production Ben Hutton provided surprised me as well. But the numbers don’t lie.
The LA Kings have been going through some tough rebuilding seasons in the last few years, and the ’19-20 one was no exception. But, if there’s a bright spot to be found, it was the emergence of Matt Roy — and when paired with another Kings newcomer in Ben Hutton, they were a formidable duo.
Their combined Corsi % of 59.3 was good enough to be fifth overall in the NHL, and it was also the highest number posted for all Kings pairings since the Doughty-McNabb pair in 2016-17. It’s an extremely good number to post for two players that had never played together before. Really close to that ‘elite’ 60% benchmark.
Maybe the Kings should’ve brought Hutton back for another look with Roy.
#4 Brayden McNabb – Drew Doughty (2016-17)
Drew Doughty has been one of the cornerstones on the Kings blueline since he entered the league in 2008. So, it’s no surprise to see him on this list, and possibly more than once. But, it may be surprising to see the work he did with the relatively young defenseman Brayden McNabb.
The McNabb trade was somewhat quiet when dealt for in March of 2014, mostly because Marian Gaborik was acquired on the same day. At the time, McNabb was still considered a prospect coming over from the Buffalo Sabres, but Dean Lombardi knew he had the time to develop him into a solid NHL player.
After a disappointing season in 2014-15, the Kings would return to the postseason with Drew Doughty and Brayden McNabb as their number-one defensive pairing. The duo of McNabb and Doughty wasn’t just the best on the LA Kings in terms of CF% — they were the best in the entire NHL. Anything above 60% in Corsi is often considered elite, and that’s exactly what they were when together: an elite defensive pairing.
#3 Alec Martinez – Matt Greene (2011-2012)
The Kings had a strange statistical season during their first Stanley Cup-winning season of 2011-12. They were hampered offensively, finishing 29th out of a possible 30 teams in the NHL in GF/60. But, they were excellent defensively, posting a 2.07 GA/G which would be good enough for second in the NHL. Much of the latter would be because of some great depth on the blue line — and Matt Greene and Alec Martinez helped that depth forming the best third pairing in the league.
Martinez was coming off a pretty strong rookie campaign, and Greene had cemented himself as a fan favorite in Los Angeles. When the two were together, they controlled play.
Matt Greene was the perfect complement to Alec Martinez. Greene was the hard-nosed, rough, and burley type of player, and Martinez was a smooth-skating youngster still growing into his game. And that’s what then-coach Darryl Sutter was so good at finding those combinations of players to put together for the team to succeed. While only receiving third-pairing minutes, the two made them count and found themselves frequently called upon in high-pressure situations.
Even though they recorded an elite xGF% number of 60.95, much like the pairing before them on this list, the below-average shooting percentage on-ice together is what led to their lower GF%.
#2 Alec Martinez – Willie Mitchell (2013-14)
Willie Mitchell earned his way onto this list by adapting his offensive game. Known for most of his career as more of the defensive type of defenseman, during the 2013-14 season, he found himself taking on more of an offensive role, earning power-play minutes at times during the season as well.
Even after having to miss the entire lockout-shortened season in 2013 for the LA Kings, Mitchell came back strong the next year.
Finding himself next to Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez at times throughout the season, Willie Mitchell would post his best analytical season with a 56.76 xGF%. But, it was when paired with Martinez is when he’d shine.
Thanks to a strong on-ice shooting percentage of 8.91%, the pairing of Martinez and Mitchell posting a sound 67.15 GF — good enough to be eighth-best among all defensive pairings in the NHL. And they were outstanding in limiting their opponent’s shots on net, finishing third in the NHL in SA/60 (shots against per 60 minutes) at 21.53.
The two carried their strong play into the postseason as well. Unfortunately, Mitchell had to miss the entire series against the Anaheim Ducks, but he would come back and be impactful later on in the postseason. And his partner Alec would go on to become idolized in LA Kings’ glory scoring the iconic Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime against the New York Rangers.
#1 Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty (2013)
It was a little tough waiting to see the Kings’ first Stanley Cup banner go up into the STAPLES Center rafters, but Kings fans were patient. And the players were ready for when that call would come.
The performance from the top pairing of Jake Muzzin and Drew Doughty during the lockout-impacted season of 2013 could be considered one of the best all-time in LA Kings’ history. Since most advanced stats are starting to be recorded, no Kings duo has posted a higher xGF% or CF% than Doughty and Muzzin of that season.
Jake Muzzin has been an analytics monster during his time in the NHL. His 63.53 CF% in 2013 was good enough to be first in the NHL and be the best number he’s recorded in his tenure throughout his career.
The duo of Doughty and Muzzin together would be unstoppable for the LA Kings. They were second in the league in xGF% and CF%, only behind the duo of Henrik Tallinder and Marek Zidlicky of the New Jersey Devils. But, their superior shooting percentage of 9.99% would propel their GF% much higher.