With the drama of Game 3 between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final taking most of the conversation over the last day, I actually wanted to look back at the play of a couple of the defenders for the Blues during their Game 2 victory. In Game 2, Blues’ assistant coach Mike Van Ryn chose to mix up his defensive pairings. This led to the memorable game-winning goal scored by Robert Bortuzzo, which was assisted by his new partner Joel Edmundson.
However, the new pairing that I focused on after the change was the pairing of Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn. This new pair dominated the game while they were on the ice and allowed the Blues to win Game 2. Dunn is listed as day-to-day following an injury in Game 3, but if he can make it back into the lineup quickly, this pairing could make a difference for the Blues in this series.
Dunn & Parayko Have Had Historical Success Together
Dunn and Parayko have found success with each other in the past. Last season, with Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester taking the role of the top pairing, Parayko found Dunn as his partner quite frequently. In 2017-18, they had an Expected Goals for Percentage (xGF%) of 55% and a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of 57% as a pairing.
Parayko and Dunn are new age defensemen. Their greatest asset is their skating ability. Dunn is excellent on his edges and uses his low center of gravity to make plays in the offensive and defensive zones. He often carries the puck into the offensive zone and creates offense from those entries. Parayko is an extremely powerful skater. At 6-foot-6, 230 lbs, he uses brute strength to power his massive frame and is nearly impossible to stop when he gets to full speed. He is particularly good at exiting his own zone with possession of the puck.
Their skating ability allows Dunn and Parayko to dominate the transition game, particularly while they are paired together. Parayko can do a lot of the work to get the puck out of the Blues’ zone and Dunn can take it from there to create an offensive chance off the offensive zone entry.
This season, however, Parayko and Dunn have not seen much ice time together. Parayko has taken over the top pairing shutdown role next to Bouwmeester, while Dunn has found himself paired with Pietrangelo and Bortuzzo most often. They both have played phenomenally well on their own.
We published an article a few months ago about Dunn’s potential, and Parayko has done a phenomenal job shutting down opposing teams’ top players. However, they are at their best when they are playing together. We saw this in Game 2, as they dominated possession with devastating effect against the Sharks.
A Long-Term Partnership Could Benefit the Blues for Years
On the ice together in Game 2, the pair had an xGF% of 98.02% and a CF% of 85.71% at even strength. That means they created nearly 100% of the chances of both teams while they were on the ice, and they controlled nearly 86% of the possession game. Those numbers are likely unrepeatable in the long run because they are so extreme, however, they do give us a quick look at the tantalizing possibilities of pairing Dunn and Parayko together.
Going forward in the playoffs, I do not expect the Blues to continue pairing Parayko and Dunn under normal circumstances. The coaching staff has shown a propensity to pair Parayko and Bouwmeester against top opposing players, and they have found success with that approach. The other two pairs will most likely be fairly fluid with many different pairings.
However, in the short-term the Blues showed on Monday that they can exploit mismatches when they need to with the Parayko-Dunn pair. It is a powerful weapon they can use when they are in need of an offensive jolt. As mentioned earlier, Dunn is recovering day-to-day from an injury, so hopefully it will not be long before the Blues can deploy this pairing again. In the long-term, the two defenders could find themselves in a very successful partnership. Parayko is only 26 years old and Dunn is 22, which means we could seem them together for years to come on the Blues’ blue line.
Michael Pelts is a St. Louis native living in New York and covering the Blues. He graduated college with an Economics degree and works as a Data Analyst. His articles explore the numbers behind the game of hockey.