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Norris Trophy Watch: Lidstrom leads blueline brigade

Nicklas Lidstrom has 20 points in 19 games and will turn 41 in April. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Nicklas Lidstrom has 20 points in 19 games and will turn 41 in April. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

A couple of weeks ago, we at THN started thinking about the intricacies of the blueline buddy system.

Some will be tempted to say we’ve gone softer than the Islanders ‘D’ corps, but there’s clearly a special bond shared between two people who are always in it together and looking out for each other’s best interests – which, in this case, includes not having your face smashed into a big pane of glass unnecessarily.

Goalies constantly try to prove they deserve to be in the crease more than the other guy, while forward lines invariably feature a third wheel. But with blueliners, it’s a two-man show that thrives when rearguards are constantly communicating and always giving their partner a path out of danger.

We started asking some questions to see if there is something to this whole blueline bro’mance thing and, sure enough, we found some tight ties. Third-year Toronto Maple Leaf Luke Schenn mentioned a playing partner from his ‘Dub’ days with the Kelowna Rockets.

“Still one of my best buddies is Tyson Barrie,” Schenn said. “We were partners pretty much the whole year in junior. You remain close when you’re with that person every day in practice and on the ice.”

The entire feature can be found in the Dec. 20 edition of The Hockey News. The piece also focuses on what makes an effective on-ice pair and the factors a coach contemplates when deciding how to deploy his six rearguards.

Larry Murphy, a Hall of Fame defenseman-turned-NHL Network analyst, noted pairings could be dependent on ice time distribution.

“Is he going to play four a ton and the last two guys very minimal or is (he) looking to play all six guys?” Murphy asked. “He’ll balance his pairings accordingly.”

While pairings can be fluid, TSN and NBC analyst Pierre McGuire pointed to one effective duo that’s flying under the radar a bit: the tandem of Bryan Allen and Dennis Wideman in Florida.

“Bryan Allen is really having a tremendous year,” McGuire said.

While coaches obviously look to align defensemen with complementary attributes, Murphy believes the days of melding a free spirit with a stay-at-home rock are long gone.

“You hear the argument that you want an offensive guy to play with a defensive guy; I’ve never bought that one,” he said. “It’s just not the way it works. As a defense pair, you have a responsibility on the defensive side of things.

“To think you can play reckless offensive hockey because you’ve got a strong defensive partner with you is a huge fallacy.”

GAME OF THE MONTH
After helping set up two goals in regulation, Nicklas Lidstrom potted this picturesque overtime winner to sink the Flames and complete a thrilling comeback by the Wings – who tied the game with fewer than four ticks left in the third.

RISING
I don’t remember too many people who thought Atlanta’s pre-season decision to move Dustin Byfuglien back to defense from the wing was a good one – well, all right, maybe one guy did. Coach Craig Ramsay and GM Rick Dudley look smart now.

FALLING With only 13 points and a minus-7 in 24 games, Duncan Keith hasn’t been his elite self this season, but his skating is simply too good for him not to rebound and get back to his usual perch.

THE HOCKEY NEWS NORRIS TROPHY WATCH
RK.
TEAM
PLAYER
THE SCOOP

1

Detroit Red Wings

Nicklas Lidstrom

When he claimed his last Norris in 2008, he became the oldest guy ever to win the trophy, at 38. When they hand out the hardware this summer, it could be his then-41-year-old hands claiming it. 

2

Colorado Avalanche

John-Michael Liles

Had his 30th birthday this week. He’s celebrating by leading all D-men with 22 points in 22 games and his plus-10 rating places him in the top 10 among blueliners.

3

Atlanta Thrashers

Dustin Byfuglien

Leads all rearguards with eight goals, putting him on pace for 30. The most he scored as a forward was 19.

4

Boston Bruins

Zdeno Chara

A minute-munching force for the B’s – he plays 26:31 per game, third in the NHL.

5

San Jose Sharks

Dan Boyle

Plays 26:45 per game – that’s second in the league, behind only Duncan Keith.

6

Pittsburgh Penguins

Kris Letang

Was asked to become more of an all-around presence by the Pens coaching staff after Sergei Gonchar left and he’s responding well.

7

Edmonton Oilers

Ryan Whitney

He’s a plus player on the team that gives up more goals per game on average than any other. Plus, he’s got 17 assists to tie for second among all defensemen. The only thing he hasn’t done is score a goal.

8

Anaheim Ducks

Lubomir Visnovsky

The anchor of Anaheim’s post-Scott Niedermayer era defense corps.

9

Chicago Blackhawks

Brent Seabrook

Keith hasn’t quite re-discovered his Norris form from a year ago, but Seabrook is on pace for a career-high 41 points.

10

Buffalo Sabres

Jordan Leopold

Buffalo leans on its defense for one-quarter of its total goals – they have 14 of the team’s 56 markers this season – and Leopold and Tyler Myers lead the back end with five each. The 30-year-old is tracking a 50-point campaign, which represents a 17-point spike from his previous high of 33 way back in 2003-04.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN It’s not hard to spot the contributions of ‘Big Buff’ in Atlanta, but a little tougher to catch is the stable play of Tobias Enstrom. He has 17 points in 22 games – thanks largely to his 15 assists – and logs more ice time (24:50) per game than any other Thrasher. Other Notables: Chris Pronger, Mike Green, Dan Girardi

THN.com's Norris Trophy Watch will appear monthly throughout the season and don't miss out as we'll also track the Hart, Vezina and Jack Adams.

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