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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
Combo Goals Scoring Split
St.Louis/Lecavalier, TAM 18 12/6
Straka/Nylander, NYR 17 12/5
Zubrus/Ovechkin, WSH 17 10/7
Hossa/Koslov, ATL 17 9/8
Langkow/Iginla, CGY 16 10/6
Pominville/Briere, BUF 14 11/3
Heatley/Spezza, OTT 14 9/5
D. Sedin/H. Sedin, VAN 14 9/5
Blake/Yashin, NYI 14 9/5
Selanne/McDonald, ANA 13 10/3
Kunitz/Selanne, ANA 13 9/4
Jokinen/Horton, FLA 13 8/5
Gionta/Gomez, NJD 13 7/6

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
Combo 1st Assists Total Goals Fraction
D. Sedin/H. Sedin, VAN 14 22 .636
Gionta/Gomez, NJD 13 28 .464
Straka/Nylander, NYR 17 39 .436
Pominville/Briere, BUF 14 36 .389
Blake/Yashin, NYI 14 36 .389
Zubrus/Ovechkin, WSH 17 44 .386
Langkow/Iginla, CGY 16 42 .381
Hossa/Koslov, ATL 17 46 .370
Jokinen/Horton, FLA 13 37 .351
Selanne/McDonald, ANA 13 41 .317
St.Louis/Lecavalier, TAM 18 58 .310
Heatley/Spezza, OTT 14 47 .298
Kunitz/Selanne, ANA 13 47 .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.