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By the numbers: Chris Tanev and Oliver Kylington are a top flight pairing

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Photo credit:Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
10 months ago
After Thursday night’s loss to the Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter mused about some challenges his team is facing. Among them, he noted that the defensive pairings of Noah Hanifin & Rasmus Andersson and Nikita Zadorov & Erik Gudbranson have “got to help each other more” amidst some challenges they’re facing.
Not mentioned by Sutter was the other defensive pairing: Chris Tanev & Oliver Kylington. The reason for that is probably because that duo isn’t just the best Flames pairing, but is also one of the top duos in the entire National Hockey League.
According to Natural Stat Trick, 21 defensive pairings have played 400 (or more) minutes together at five-on-five this season. (It’s an arbitrary cut-off, but probably enough to cut off the more irregular defensive pairs league-wide.)
Among these 21 pairings, Tanev & Kylington rank as follows:
  • 4th in Corsi For percentage (behind MacKenzie Weegar/Aaron Ekblad, Victor Hedman/Jan Rutta, and TJ Brodie/Morgan Rielly)
  • 3rd in Expected Goals For percentage (behind Erik Karlsson/Keaton Middleton & Hedman/Rutta)
  • 1st in Scoring Chances For percentage
  • 2nd in High Danger Changes For percentage (behind Karlsson/Middleton)
On a percentage basis, compared to the other highly-used pairings, Tanev & Kylington can be argued as one of the top two or three pairings in terms of generating offensive relative to their defensive game. In other words: Tanev & Kylington are among the league’s best in keeping the puck moving up the ice (and keeping it in the offensive zone) when they’re on the ice.
On a per-60-minutes basis – controlling for differences in time on ice – they also shine when you isolate their defensive impacts and look at their ability to suppress the other team’s offense. They have the lowest Expected Goals Against rate among those 21 pairs, the lowest Scoring Chances Against rate, and the second lowest High Danger Chances Against rate (trailing only Roman Josi/Dante Fabbro).
When you isolate Tanev & Kylington’s impacts to their road games – the games where the coaching staff cannot control their match-ups – their underlying defensive performances are arguably more impressive.
There are 26 pairings with 200 (or more) five-on-five minutes together on the road. Tanev & Kylington are:
  • 2nd in Expected Goals Against rate (behind Marcus Pettersson/John Marino)
  • 4th in Scoring Chances Against rate (behind Pettersson/Marino, Weegar/Ekblad and Cam Fowler/Josh Manson)
  • 2nd in High Danger Chances Against rate (behind Pettersson/Marino)
They’re also among the league leaders among home pairings – 1st in Expected Goals For percentage, 1st in Scoring Chances For percentage, 2nd in High Danger Chances For percentage and among the leaders in most isolated defensive impacts – but making league-wide comparisons at home is difficult because the Flames have played so few home games so far.
Long story short, the Flames have had some problems on their blueline – especially lately. But the emergence of the Tanev & Kylington pairing has been a huge net positive, and potentially could give the coaching staff the breathing room to get the other two pairings back to where they need to be.
The numbers say it loud and clear: they’re one of the NHL’s best defensive pairings.

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