I was just as shocked as anyone to see that the Jamie McBain-Tim Gleason defense pairing was kept together in Thursday night's game against the Canucks because of how poorly those two played as a unit until then. While they had a respectable outing that game, I thought Kirk Muller would have decided to reunite Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason since they were going up against a strong offensive team and McBain has struggled in a shutdown role thus far. That's when I began to thought to myself the negatives of the Allen-Gleason defense pairing. Both guys are studs in their own zone and the best defensemen on the team in terms of preventing chances against but neither are that good of puck movers.
There is a lot of pressure put on defensemen to get the puck out of their own zone with break-out passes that you need to have a puck-moving defenseman on almost any pairing. One of McBain's strengths is being able to move the puck well and with Joni Pitkanen on the shelf indefinitely, that makes him an attractable option for the top pairing. Allen and Gleason, on the other hand, are not known for their puck-moving skills but are both so bad that they can't play on the top pairing?
This is where looking at zone entries and exits will come in handy. Derek Zona of Copper and Blue looked at this for the Oilers and the folks at Broad Street Hockey have been tracking zone entries for the Flyers all season. The latter part is what we're the most concerned with here because having a defenseman that can get the puck out of the zone is crucial for establishing any kind of offense. To compare McBain and Allen's puck moving skills, I watched each of their shifts from the last game they played on a pairing with Gleason (Thursday vs. Canucks for McBain and Nov. 26th vs. Florida for Allen), recorded what happened each time they touched the puck in the defensive zone and logged how they advanced the puck. Did they make an outlet pass to a forward in the neutral zone, rely one of the forwards to exit the zone, make a big slap pass around the boards and hope for the best or do it the old fashioned way and exit the zone themselves?
Find out the answer after the jump