The Anaheim Ducks are blessed with a plethora of young defensemen that general manager Bob Murray has shrewdly stockpiled ever since drafting Sami Vatanen in 2009. In fact, in six consecutive years from then to 2014, the team drafted each one of its starting six defensemen that played in their Game 2 victory over Nashville. Cam Fowler was chosen 12th overall in 2010, Josh Manson was taken 160th overall in 2011, Hampus Lindholm was the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Shea Theodore followed at 26th overall in 2013 and three years ago it was Brandon Montour, taken 55th overall. The first three mentioned are now 25, with Lindholm, Theodore, and Montour following at 23, 21, and 23 respectively. It’s arguably the best homegrown blueline in the league, hence why the Ducks are three wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Each has contributed offensively combining for five goals and 30 points in the playoffs, but just like he was in that 2011 draft, Manson is again flying under the radar with just three assists. Lindholm, though picked quite high himself, is often overlooked playing on the West Coast, especially now with his offensive numbers declining for the third straight season from 34 points to 28 last season and just 20 this past year. However, for both, it’s the play on the other side of the puck, that’s making Manson-Lindholm one of the most valuable assets to Anaheim’s Stanley Cup run.
Josh Manson–Hampus Lindholm Pairing Will Be Key in Push for Stanley Cup Final Berth
The 25-year old Manson has quite a partner to learn from in 23-year old Lindholm, whom he’s played with the majority of the year as the Ducks most consistent pairing put together by head coach Randy Carlyle by frequency (17.5%). Away from each other this season, each were relatively just above average in terms of the possession meter, with Lindholm at 51.07% in 384 minutes of ice time and Manson at 51.33% in 596 minutes. However, together, that possession rate goes up to 55% in 712 minutes. This follows a pattern from last season under Bruce Boudreau, when the combination racked up a whopping 59.31% Corsi-for percentage together in nearly 800 minutes of ice time, with Manson falling four percentage points in 531 minutes without his partner and Lindholm dropping eight points in 321.
Inside the Stats
Taking a look at the best blueline combinations from the beginning of 2015-16 to the end of this past season, it doesn’t get much better than Manson-Lindholm among pairings that have played at least 1500 minutes of hockey.
Corsi-Against per 60 minutes? 1st, 44.64%.
Fenwick-Against per 60 minutes? 1st, 32.60%.
Shots against per 60 minutes? 1st, 22.20.
Scoring Chances against per 60 minutes? 5th, 6.71.
Goals against per 60 minutes? 1st, 1.63.
They’re kinda good, right? 1510 minutes together may be a smaller sample size compared to the more consistently paired Paul Martin–Brent Burns (2275 minutes) and Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon (2487 minutes) duos, but they aren’t too far off from the likes of Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo (1906 minutes), Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson (1837 minutes) or even Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson (1695 minutes) pairings and it is one heck of a start to their career as a duo. Three of the other pairings have each played in a Conference Final, with Martin-Burns helping the Sharks make the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Last playoff season, Manson was injured in Game 1 and the Ducks ended up losing in seven games to the Nashville Predators. It could be a coincidence, given Boudreau’s playoff record as a heavy favorite, but, intriguing to think about. This playoff year, Manson and Lindholm are healthy enough and were not being used as much up to this point by Carlyle, combining for just 50 minutes together so far. However, an injury to Kevin Bieksa has opened the door for them to be together again.
With the series deadlocked at a game apiece moving into a best-of-five scenario, Carlyle would be wise to keep these two together for the remainder of this series even if Bieksa can play. They will not factor in much offense combining for one goal and seven points between them, but that can be left to Fowler (7 points), Theodore (8 points), and Montour (6 points). They are more offensively-minded talents doing what they do best.
Defense is *still* ultimately important in winning championships, and this pairing will be a huge factor in whether the Ducks can exorcise even more demons in their quest for their second Stanley Cup.
Frequency data courtesy of Left Wing Lock
Overall possession stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey