Every once in a while I have an interesting thought about the Ducks and how management or coaching should deal with the team. Today’s thoughts have to do with the best line in the NHL: Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. The trio has shown they can score a ton of goals and lead the team to the second and almost third round of the playoffs by themselves. But this line can do so much more: they need to be our checking line.
The Ducks once boasted the best checking line in the NHL. Collectively, Travis Moen, Sami Pahlsson, and Rob Niedermayer formed a wall of defense that frustrated the best players in the NHL on a nightly basis. That line was so important to the team that it eventually helped capture the Stanley Cup in 2007, and Pahlsson earned more than just a few votes for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
But the effectiveness of the line wasn’t measured solely by how many goals the opposing line didn’t score, but rather a combination of many factors. The checking line of 2007 prevented plenty of goals but also scored quite a few themselves. If you recall, Moen was a beast in the 2007 playoffs; Pahlsson scored some very timely goals, particularly against Ottawa; and Niedermayer did the hard work to set them both up. Pahlsson was a club-leading plus-10, Niedermayer was a plus-9, and Moen was a plus-5 in the playoffs that year. The line combined for six game-winning goals. Take into consideration that a team needs 16 wins to claim the Stanley Cup and you’ll see that the checking line accounted for 37.5% of Ducks’ winning goals during the playoffs.
But that’s not all they did. That checking line frustrated players to the point that they took “stupid” or selfish penalties every night. Fans can probably remember Marian Gaborik and Daniel Alfredsson taking a few cheap-shots at Pahlsson during some of those games, which often resulted in power plays for the Ducks. Power play goals scored as a result of those penalties can be attributed to the work the checking line accomplished, thereby increasing the importance of the line.
The line also had another important quality about them: size. Because each of the players were big and strong, and because they were able to control the puck in the offensive zone, the opposing line wore down very quickly. Anyone who’s played hockey before knows that defending takes much more energy than playing in the offensive zone, and the checking line used this fact to their advantage. The trio played the game in the trenches of the NHL; every offensive possession was a cycle play deep in the corners, 200 feet from the Ducks goalie, and opposing defencemen and forwards alike struggled to fend off the three big forwards. When the opposing team’s best forwards had to play defense against the line before skating the puck all 200 feet, they didn’t have much energy to create offensive chances and had even less energy on the next shift.
Ducks fans can probably see where I’m going with this. The Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line (RPG line) scores quite a few of the Ducks’ goals. The line accounted for about 31% of the team’s regular season game-winning goals and about 29% of the team’s playoff game-winning goals last season. The line is also the best I’ve seen at making the other team tired enough to send the puck for icing rather than skate to the red line and dump it in. The bodies of the RPG line are bigger and stronger than the ones on the checking line of 2007 and they have a lot more skill, making it that much more difficult for other teams’ defenders to stop the line. But the only thing the RPG line is missing is the ability to frustrate opponents to the point that they’ll take bad penalties. It’s actually the opposite; the RPG line takes the most minor penalties on the team. Perry had 109 PIMs and Getzlaf had 121. Ryan was the Lady Byng winner of the group with only 33 PIMs in 64 games, which is actually an acceptable amount. While this statistic is great for fantasy hockey, it’s something the line needs to clean up in the real world.
Imagine the luxury that Coach Randy Carlyle would have if this were a reality. When Mike Babcock throws out Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen, who are great defensive players themselves, Carlyle can counter with the RPG line. Even if those two lines play to a draw, the Ducks will have Andrew Ebbett, Joffrey Lupul, Saku Koivu, and Teemu Selanne ready to come out against the lesser Red Wings players. That’s a matchup that will always be favorable to the Ducks.
My point is this: the RPG line does all the things a checking line does, with the added bonus that they score a ton more goals. When the three clean up their issues with taking penalties, something they will do as they mature, they will truly become one of the best lines in the game. Think of the Legion of Doom line (John LeClair, Eric Lindros, Mikael Renberg), with all their power, meets the Triple Crown line (Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer, and Marcel Dionne), the only line where each of the three scored at least 100 points in a season. Then add the fact that they can also function as the checking line of 2007 (Moen, Pahlsson, Niedermayer) and you’ve created a uniquely unstoppable line, all while stopping the league’s best players.