Ranking Every NHL Team's Top Line in 2015-16

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistApril 1, 2016

Ranking Every NHL Team's Top Line in 2015-16

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    It sounds easy to rank the top lines in the NHL, but it's actually a surprisingly difficult task.

    For one thing, coaches are a little like the cast of Scooby-Dooalways meddling. They often prefer permanent duos to sets of three; sometimes they can't be bothered to even keep pairs together. Add in injuries, and line combinations are in constant flux.

    Our approach here has been to go with the most common top line over the course of the full season—provided that all of the players on that unit are still with the team—rather than with the most recent combinations.

    Then, there are special teams to consider. Power-play time and penalty-kill time are often treated differently to even-strength ice time, and the beloved depth charts provided on broadcasts and toyed with endlessly by coaches and fans alike can have little in common with special teams. Our approach has been to restrict ourselves to considering 5-on-5 performance; overtime and special teams are different skills and assignments vary considerably.

    We're also looking only at actual work over the course of this season. A good or even great player having a bad year will be rated here based on what he's done in 2015-16; a lesser player having a great year might well come in ahead of him if the results this season warrant it.

    The results that follow come from three primary sources: Left Wing Lock was indispensable in researching and confirming combinations, Puckalytics' Super WOWY function allowed us to test how various lines performed and is a fantastic tool for anyone interested in looking at line performances and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com was the primary resource for players' 5-on-5 statistics.

    Read on for the rankings, and feel free to let me know your views in the comments section.

30. Minnesota Wild

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Line: Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville.

    The Story: The Minnesota Wild have been running a top trio of Parise next to Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle for a while, but for most of the year, it stuck with the unit outlined above even as all three players struggled to produce at even strength. Because we're looking over the season as a whole here, we're obliged to consider the Wild's failed top line rather than more recent and more successful incarnations.  

    Performance: This line probably wasn't as bad as its results, but it was bad enough.

    What is meant by that is that the shot metrics were relatively vanilla. In seven hours as unit, this trio had 69 more offensive-zone starts than defensive-zone starts yet had only a 52 percent Corsi rating—not nearly good enough for a top line playing that sort of offence-oriented assignment.

    The results were even worse, though, because this unit converted on under than four percent of its even-strength shots. A top line that can't score isn't much help to anyone.

29. Carolina Hurricanes

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The Line: Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and rotating wingers.

    The Story: Skinner and Rask have been together for most of the season for the Carolina Hurricanes. Most recently, they've played with Chris Terry, but that's a relatively recent change. For most of the season, the third member of the line has been Phillip Di Giuseppe. However, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn and Kris Versteeg have all also spent time on this line. 

    Performance: This is one of those lines that has relied heavily on finishing ability for success, which is a bit of an oddity for the Canes, who generally play a strong possession game but lack finishers.

    Skinner and Rask have played nearly nine hours together at 5-on-5, scoring 53 percent of all goals while recording just 47 percent of all shots. However, there's reason to be skeptical about those numbers, because mostly that's the effect of playing with Di Giuseppe.

    With Di Giuseppe on the unit, the line records just 46 percent of shot attempts, scoring 17 goals to the opposition's 11. This is primarily thanks to a 13.2 shooting percentage as a unit; when playing with anyone else, not one of these players has an on-ice shooting percentage higher than seven percent. That shooting percentage is arguably unsustainable, so this suddenly isn't a good first line.

28. New Jersey Devils

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Line: Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri and rotating wingers.

    The Story: For most of the year, the New Jersey Devils have had only two lines even remotely capable of producing goals: this unit, and the line centered by Adam Henrique. The latter might actually be the best, but with the injury to Mike Cammalleri and the trade of Lee Stempniak, Henrique has not had the benefit of regular linemates.

    That leaves this other trio, which currently features Reid Boucher but has also included Sergey Kalinin, Jiri Tlusty and Joe Blandisi.

    Performance: Zajac, the team's top defensive centre, is often assigned tough minutes, and this unit's usage reflects that reality.

    Zajac and Palmieri have spent some 700 minutes together at 5-on-5, and in that time, they have started 205 shifts in the offensive zone and 275 in the defensive end of the rink. That's a big part of the reason why this unit's Corsi rating is a lousy 45.7 percent. Thanks in large part to Cory Schneider's ridiculous goaltending (.947 on-ice save percentage), this unit has outscored the opposition by a 21-18 margin. 

27. Buffalo Sabres

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Line: Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly/Jack Eichel.

    The Story: Good luck finding one top line to stick a label on; change seems to be the watchword of the Buffalo Sabres coaching staff. Kane has spent about 30 percent of his total ice time with Reinhart and one of O'Reilly and Eichel, but that's two different lines. And it also means he's spent nearly 70 percent of his ice time on some other trio. There are 12 different combinations on which he has spent between three and eight percent of his time out there.

    This, though, is the closest thing Buffalo has had to a designated No. 1 unit.

    Performance: This line has had some problems.

    In the incarnation that includes Eichel, it's been given a heavy diet of offensive-zone starts and narrowly outscored the opposition (7-6) while just barely breaking even on the shot clock. That's not a great return on those kinds of minutes.

    Sub in O'Reilly, and the fundamentals start looking rosier, with the line posting a 55 percent Corsi despite being charged with defensive responsibilities. Unfortunately, shooting percentage falls off a cliff, and this trio is actually outscored 6-5. Given we're only talking about three hours of ice time, that's probably an aberration. Over time, you would expect the goal totals to improve.

    That is assuming the trio gets to play together for any length of time.

26. New York Rangers

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    The Line: Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.

    The Story: There has been a fair bit of flexibility in the New York Rangers' lines this season, with the one near-constant being the one-two punch of Brassard and Derek Stepan at centre. For most of the year, the duo of Brassard and Zuccarello (generally with Nash) has led the team in even-strength ice time and played the primary offensive role at 5-on-5. 

    Performance: This line has succeeded in generating offence but in ways that are somewhat underwhelming.

    In addition to typically excellent New York goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, this line has also been the beneficiary of a shooting-percentage bubble, converting on 12 percent of all shots fired. In the aggregate of other combinations, not one of these individuals has an on-ice shooting percentage of nine percent. 

    That shooting/save percentage combination has allowed a unit that takes only 46 percent of shot attempts to score 58 percent of the goals when its on the ice (19-14) over a period of about six hours. It's not a particularly sustainable achievement. 

25. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Line: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner.

    The Story: Between the coaching change, the Ryan Johansen trade and the collapse of Nick Foligno, identifying the Columbus Blue Jackets top line this year hasn't been easy. There are two strong candidates, however: the trio of Atkinson, Dubinsky and Jenner or the combination of Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg and Scott Hartnell. We've gone with the former because that trio is the one head coach John Tortorella has given the most ice time. 

    Performance: This line has been murdered by bad goaltending.

    I feel comfortable blaming the goalies because the save percentage with this trio together is a miserable .886 (at even strength, where the average is closer to .920), which pales in comparison to the numbers posted by these players in any other combination.

    Atkinson, Dubinsky and Jenner have .919, .924 and .939 on-ice save percentages respectively in hours on other line combinations; it seems fair to say their miserable numbers in combination are an aberration that will not continue.

    Outside of save percentage, the line has been pretty good, scoring 2.8 goals per hour and taking 52 percent of all shots while taking on a heavy load of defensive-zone starts. 

24. Detroit Red Wings

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Line: Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader.

    The Story: There have been three primary versions of this line. Both Larkin and Gustav Nyquist have been given shots with Zetterberg and Abdelkader. As has Pavel Datsyuk. However, the temptation of building a second line around Datsyuk has proved irresistible to head coach Jeff Blashill, so Larkin has been by far the most common third member of the line. 

    Performance: The line has been excellent in some ways, but sustainability is an issue.

    This trio gets outshot despite a heavy diet of offensive-zone starts. So far, that hasn't hurt; despite a 49 percent Corsi rating, this trio has scored 18 goals while allowing just 13 the other way. That's thanks to a high shooting percentage and a .942 save percentage. It's hard to lose with that combination, but lines just don't stay this hot forever. 

    Interestingly, the Corsi rating for this line with Datsyuk in place of Larkin jumps above 56 percent. That's not a huge surprise as the veteran Russian pivot has long been a top possession player. 

23. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    The Line: Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov and assorted wingers.

    The Story: Komarov hasn't played for a while thanks to a lower-body injury, but when healthy, he's been a regular partner to Kadri. The duo most frequently played with James van Riemsdyk (also injured) and Michael Grabner, but other wingers have also had their opportunity to play on this unit.

    Performance: This is probably a better line than its results, but the results have not been pretty. 

    The Toronto Maple Leafs have a 54 percent Corsi rating with Kadri and Komarov on the ice, but that hasn't translated to goals. Instead, the opposition has outscored Toronto 31-22 in the 700-odd minutes that this pair has been on the ice together.

    The key problem has been shooting percentage. The Leafs convert on just under six percent of their shots with these players on the ice. It's probably a bad idea to read too much into that poor shooting percentage; after all, both players have a history of far better conversion rates. 

22. Colorado Avalanche

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    The Line: Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.

    The Story: It's actually a little inaccurate to shoehorn Landeskog as the only winger on this line; the Duchene-MacKinnon duo has been a fairly consistent part of the Colorado Avalanche lineup, but it has played with Landeskog, Alex Tanguay, Mikhail Grigorenko and others. Still, Landeskog has been the most regular third member of the line. 

    Performance: This line has played a little over four hours together at 5-on-5. In that time, Colorado has scored eight goals and surrendered eight, posting a Corsi percentage just below 49 percent. That may not sound great, but on a Colorado team with a 44 percent Corsi rating and a 48 percent goals-for rate, both numbers are well above average. 

    Still, the numbers here are below what you might expect from three exceptionally talented players. 

21. Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Line: Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen and James Neal.

    The Story: Since arriving from Columbus in midseason trade, Johansen has spent virtually the entirety of his time with the same two linemates: Jarnkrok and Neal. He has made a cameo next to Filip Forsberg and played some odds and ends with other skaters, but a whopping 56 percent of the time, he's had both Neal and Jarnkrok on his wings. That number increases if we include shifts with just one of the two. 

    Performance: So far, this line has managed to outscore opponents despite thoroughly mediocre shot metrics.

    As with most offensive lines, the Johansen trio has been gifted with a lot of offensive-zone time by head coach Peter Laviolette, but despite this, Nashville gets outshot when its on the ice, albeit narrowly. The line's saving grace has been a 13.1 shooting percentage (nearly double the individual numbers of these players on any other line), which has led to a 16-10 edge in goal differential. 

20. Ottawa Senators

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    The Line: Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone.

    The Story: It's probably a little more accurate to view this line as two lines: Turris, Hoffman and a rotating winger or Turris, Stone and a rotating winger. The most common intersection of those two lines is all three players together, but Turris has spent a lot of time with one or the other. Lately, of course, he's been out of the lineup, leaving the Ottawa Senators to get by without their top centre. 

    Performance: For various reasons, this line has only spent 200-odd minutes together at 5-on-5, but when together, it has been rather good—and certainly performed better than its components did in other assignments.

    As a unit, this trio has a 53 percent Corsi rating on a rather bad Corsi team, as well as a 9-7 edge in goal differential (56 percent). The numbers for all three players fall off dramatically in other roles, but none more so than Turris, who has a mediocre 49 percent Corsi rating and has been on the ice for just 17 goals for as opposed to 29 against when with other players. 

19. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The Line: Steven Stamkos and the people he plays with.

    The Story: The Tampa Bay Lightning's lines this season have been a mishmash. Even just over the last few games, Stamkos has played pretty steadily with Alex Killorn but has seen a revolving door in the other position on his line, with Nikita Kucherov, Vlad Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat all getting turns. Add in Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula and even Jonathan Drouin to the mix, and he's played in a dizzying array of line combinations.

    There's no way to pick just one combo and call it Tampa Bay's top line. 

    Performance: It may be that the constant line shuffling is one of the reasons Stamkos has had a pretty poor season by his lofty standards at even strength.

    Consider this: At 5-on-5 this year, Stamkos has scored 1.7 points/hour. That's a good number for most NHL forwards, but it's the worst number of Stamkos' career. As a rookie, he scored 1.8 points per hour; over the six seasons between now and then, he's tallied between 2.2 and 2.8 points/hour. It's been a tough year.

    His exact numbers vary widely by situation and partner, but despite the modest scoring, the Lightning have a fairly decent 52 percent Corsi rating with Stamkos on the ice and have outscored the opposition by about a half-goal per hour.

18. Calgary Flames

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The Line: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and rotating right wings.

    The Story: Jiri Hudler was the third member of what is undeniably the Calgary Flames top line for most of the year, but he was traded to the Florida Panthers at the deadline. As a result, it's gotten a little more difficult to pin down this unit. Michael Ferland has spent time on this line. As have Josh Jooris, Michael Frolik, Joe Colborne and the departed David Jones. 

    Performance: The duo of Monahan and Gaudreau have played more than 15 hours together at even strength, and thanks to a sky-high shooting percentage, they have managed to score 57 percent of all goals when they are on the ice while recording just under 50 percent of all shots. Both players have been good finishers over their short NHL careers; there's at least some possibility that they can continue to outperform the league's average shooting percentage, though perhaps not to this degree. 

    The line's numbers have not fallen off noticeably without Hudler, either. Shooting percentage has been good at 10 percent (which is an impressive number at even strength) and goal-scoring has held steady while the line's Corsi number has fallen somewhat. 

17. St. Louis Blues

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Line: Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny/Jori Lehtera.

    The Story: The St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock is known for many things, including line shuffling. And between his penchant for tweaking and the Blues' injury troubles, there has been no shortage of shifting on the top line.

    Even now, Tarasenko finds himself playing with Jaden Schwartz rather than Steen, with the latter out of the lineup through injury. Nevertheless, Tarasenko/Steen has been a reliable wing pair for both Stastny and Lehtera over the course of the year. 

    Performance: Tarasenko and Steen have been far better together than apart.

    In a little under seven hours of 5-on-5 play, the duo has been on the ice for 21 Blues goals as opposed to just 14 tallies by the opposition. That scoring ratio is probably a little too good to last as the duo owns a modest 53 percent Corsi rating. But even so, this is a good line.

16. Washington Capitals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Line: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

    The Story: An injury to Backstrom out of training camp meant Ovechkin started the year with Evgeny Kuznetsov, a pairing that actually worked out pretty well. However, the Washington Capitals eventually settled into a routine that featured Kuznetsov driving the club's second line while Ovechkin played with longtime partner Backstrom. Newcomers T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams both had moments on right wing, but Oshie has played the vast majority of the minutes on this line.

    Performance: Although they've been together for nearly 10 hours, this trio's results are somewhat underwhelming.

    Not the goal counts, of course. Washington has a 25-14 edge in goals when this line is on the ice, but that's the sort of thing that happens when the goalie posts a .949 save percentage for a given line at 5-on-5. Shot attempts are much more compelling; the Capitals are only breaking even when this trio is out there.

    All three players have better shot rates in other line combinations and only slightly inferior goal rates, with the latter almost entirely attributable to save-percentage differences.

15. Arizona Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Line: Anthony Duclair, Martin Hanzal and Tobias Rieder/Max Domi.

    The Story: Duclair and Hanzal have been a pairing for the Arizona Coyotes for most of the year, with the third member of the trio most often either Rieder or Domi. Hanzal has spent 32 percent of his ice time with Duclair and Rieder and 28 percent with Duclair and Domi, which makes it difficult to exclude either right wing. 

    Performance: It's worth looking at this line's performance with each right wing separately.

    In a little over four hours with Rieder on the wing, this line has been given a heavy diet of offensive-zone starts. It has responded with reasonably strong numbers, taking 53 percent of all shot attempts and scoring 54 percent of all goals when it is on the ice. 

    The usage is similar in more than three hours with Domi on the line, but the possession numbers are a little better; the trio manages to take 54 percent of all Corsi events. The goal numbers are dramatic; this line has a 9-2 edge in goals for. But that's mostly because the team's goalies have a .980 save percentage when it's on the ice. It's likely Corsi tells a truer tale of this trio's talent.

    The players here aren't especially famous, but they've been shockingly effective.

14. New York Islanders

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Line: John Tavares and the people he plays with.

    The Story: Tavares has had a difficult year in some ways, and partially as a result of that, his New York Islanders linemates have continued to shift. Lately, he's been playing with Ryan Strome and Josh Bailey. But looking back over the course of the year, right wing has been almost a 50/50 split between Strome and Kyle Okposo. At left wing, there's been a revolving door featuring a bunch of different players.

    Performance: Tavares and Okposo have been a regular pairing for years, but the results are actually slightly better with Strome out at right wing. 

    The line's Corsi rating rises from 52 percent to 53 percent and the goal differential rises from plus-four to plus-six in basically even time. Just to make matters even clearer, Tavares-Strome gets slightly less favourable assignments than Tavares-Okposo. 

    Either way, this has been a pretty decent line at 5-on-5. 

13. Edmonton Oilers

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Line: Benoit Pouliot, Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle/Nail Yakupov.

    The Story: Patrick Maroon has inherited Pouliot's spot on this line since the latter went down with injury, but that hasn't been the case for most of the year. In the early going, it was Yakupov joining Pouliot and McDavid; in the latter part of the year, Eberle has displaced Yakupov in the top spot.

    There's an argument that the duo of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl should be considered the Edmonton Oilers top line, but both players have cooled considerably down the stretch, even as McDavid has established himself as the team's best forward. 

    Performance: The early version of this line was pretty successful, albeit in a heavily sheltered role; in a little over two hours together, it outscored the opposition 9-7 while posting a 52 percent Corsi rating. Things really took off when Eberle displaced Yakupov.

    For one, the sheltering stopped; this unit started more shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. The line's Corsi number increased up to 56 percent. And while the goal differential actually got marginally worse (9-8), this was mostly the result of a horrid on-ice save percentage (.879). That kind of save percentage makes this line look much worse than it actually is. 

12. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Line: Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane.

    The Story: Most years, it's arguable which of the top Chicago Blackhawks lines is in fact its best. Jonathan Toews and friends play the tough minutes with a high degree of skill, while Kane and his confederates set the world aflame offensively. This year, there really isn't much of a contest; Toews is having an off-year offensively while Kane is having the best season of his career. 

    Performance: Kane has, oddly enough, been a better finisher off this line than on it, which helps account for the surprisingly human performance of this trio as a unit.

    These three players have put in roughly 750 5-on-5 minutes together this year, posting a 54 percent Corsi and scoring 53 percent of all goals when they are on the ice. Making this somewhat less impressive is the fact coach Joel Quenneville has given them 300 offensive-zone starts and just 72 shifts beginning in the defensive zone. 

    The numbers are good but not as brilliant as we might expect given Kane's season. 

11. Vancouver Canucks

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The Line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Jannik Hansen.

    The Story: Radim Vrbata started the year as an incumbent on the Vancouver Canucks top line. But for a variety of reasons, the team decided to go a different direction, first using Vrbata to try and shore up scoring depth and later deciding his performance warranted a demotion. That created an opportunity for Hansen to secure one of the most attractive jobs in hockey, and he did so. 

    Performance: It's been a tough year for the Canucks, but nobody can say the twins haven't carried their share of the load.

    With this trio on the ice, the Canucks have a reasonably impressive 53 percent Corsi rating. The goal results have been even more impressive than the shot attempt totals. Vancouver has scored 22 goals to just nine for the opposition in the six-plus hours it has played this line at 5-on-5.

    Yes, the save percentage (.947) is extremely high, and yes, the conversion rate (11.8 percent) is also well above average. But this would be a good unit even without those boosts. 

10. Winnipeg Jets

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Line: Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele/Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers/Drew Stafford.

    The Story: The way the line is presented above looks complicated, but the truth is decidedly less so. For the vast majority of the year, Wheeler played with Little and Andrew Ladd. Then Ladd got dealt to Chicago and Little got hurt. The result is that the Winnipeg Jets now have something of a patchwork top line.

    Though looking back over the season as a whole, we're also limiting that examination to players still with the team; there's not much point in rating a top line featuring Ladd given the Jets are now Ladd-less. 

    Performance: Patchwork is one thing; ineffectiveness quite another. 

    Wheeler and Scheifele, who have been the engine of Winnipeg's top line since the trade deadline, have clicked rather nicely together. In over four hours of shared ice time at 5-on-5, the duo has a 57 percent Corsi rating and has outscored the opposition 15-8, almost a 2:1 margin.

9. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The Line: Claude Giroux and the people he plays with.

    The Story: The Philadelphia Flyers are one of those teams whose top line is rather hard to pin down. Lately, Giroux has partnered with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds; earlier in the year, he was mostly assigned to Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl. But it would be too easy if he just had those two sets of partners; he's also spent time with Voracek-Simmonds and Schenn-Raffl.

    Performance: It's probably easiest to break down Giroux's four most common line combinations by ice time together, Corsi and goals percentage:

    • Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds: 212 minutes, 52 percent Corsi, 53 percent goals for (+10/-9).
    • Giroux, Raffl, Voracek: 186 minutes, 56 percent Corsi, 40 percent goals for (+4/-6).
    • Giroux, Raffl, Schenn: 182 minutes, 53 percent Corsi, 64 percent goals for (+7/-4).
    • Giroux, Schenn, Simmonds: 166 minutes, 52 percent Corsi, 56 percent goals for (+9/-7).

    Giroux fairly consistently plays tough minutes, though there's some variation from line to line. As we're only dealing with segments of roughly three hours, Corsi is probably our most reliable guide as there are a lot more shot attempts than goals over that span. We can see Giroux's numbers were strong throughout, with a Corsi percentage between 52 and 56 percent in any of these combinations. 

8. Florida Panthers

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Line: Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr.

    The Story: One of these things is not like the others. The 44-year-old Jagr has continued to defy age, producing at an exceptional rate. Injuries and trades have resulted in a lot of changes in the Florida Panthers lineup, but head coach Gerard Gallant has understandably gone back to this trio time and again. 

    Performance: This line has been the beating heart of Florida's 5-on-5 offence.

    Gallant has given the trio fairly tough assignments; in a little over eight hours together, this line has started 39 more shifts in its own end of the rink than in the offensive zone. Despite this, the trio is above 50 percent by Corsi and even better in the goals department, scoring 28 while allowing just 16 the other way (64 percent). 

7. Montreal Canadiens

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Line: Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher.

    The Story: Alex Galchenyuk has pushed his way into the No. 1 centre position with the Montreal Canadiens over the last while, but for most of the season, he was in a lesser role and often enough on the wing. That left Plekanec in the No. 1 job, with veterans Gallagher and Pacioretty on the wings as a quality two-way line.

    Performance: Galchenyuk's ascension and the desire to anoint him as the team's No. 1 centre have in some quarters obscured an important fact: This line was extremely good with Plekanec down the middle.

    How good? In almost seven hours together, the trio ran up a gorgeous 59 percent Corsi rating and an even larger goal differential, outscoring the opposition by a 24-13 margin (65 percent). Some of that was high shooting and save percentage, but any line that spends nearly 60 percent of its time in the opposition zone deserves serious respect.

6. Dallas Stars

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Line: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp.

    The Story: Benn and Seguin have been one of the league's most dynamic offensive duos since the latter's arrival at the Dallas Stars in 2013. This year, they've been joined by Sharp, a player Chicago was forced to move owing to salary considerations. 

    Performance: This is a brilliant possession line. Although head coach Lindy Ruff helps them with a zone-start push, this trio takes more than 57 percent of all shot attempts when its on the ice. That's a massive advantage for the Stars.

    It's worth noting the line's goal total isn't so lopsided thanks to an ugly on-ice save percentage of .889. Dallas, as a team, has terrible numbers. Both Benn and Seguin had much better on-ice save percentages last season, so I'm inclined to think this isn't entirely as a result of playing a high-octane offensive style. 

5. Boston Bruins

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Line: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Brett Connolly.

    The Story: There are two Boston Bruins lines that are arguably the club's No. 1 unit, and there have been for years. David Krejci centres Boston's top offensive line, a unit tasked with driving goal-scoring, while Bergeron plays down the middle on Boston's power-against-power unit. Although there's a reasonable case for Krejci, the performance of the Bergeron-Marchand duo (this year mostly with Connolly) in a brutal role gives them the edge. 

    Performance: Unlike nearly every other line on this list, the Bergeron trio sees not just top-quality opponents but also a steady diet of offensive-zone starts, starting more than a third of its shifts in its own end of the rink and just over a quarter in the offensive zone. 

    Despite this, these players are dominant. In more than seven hours as a trio, this line has scored 55 percent of all goals and taken 55 percent of all shots. Given the difficulty of the minutes being played, that's truly remarkable. 

4. Los Angeles Kings

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Line: Anze Kopitar, Milan Lucic and assorted wingers.

    The Story: There's no question of the identity of the Los Angeles Kings' No. 1 centre. Jeff Carter is a fine player and a key piece of the team, but Kopitar is clearly top dog. He's mostly been flanked by Milan Lucic, but he's also spent a lot of time without Lucic, including his current assignment with Dustin Brown and Dwight King. 

    Still, Lucic is his most common collaborator, with the other job going to one of Tyler Toffoli, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown and Kris Versteeg at various times. 

    Performance: Kopitar and Lucic have been great together, and they've been great apart, with each spending a little over half of his 5-on-5 ice-time with the other.

    Together, the duo has taken 58 percent of all shot attempts and scored 63 percent of all goals. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these two is they have combined for a high on-ice shooting percentage and a low on-ice save percentage, both tough tasks on the famously defensive-minded Kings.

3. San Jose Sharks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Line: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and (mostly) Tomas Hertl.

    The Story: It seems incredible to say that a player such as Thornton could be underrated, but after years of commentators describing the San Jose Sharks as Logan Couture's team, this is where we are. Thornton and Pavelski have been joined at the hip for the entire season, with Hertl their most common accomplice, and they've driven San Jose's strong season.

    Performance: Together, Thornton and Pavelski have been on the ice for 55 San Jose goals. They have been on the ice for just 22 goals against, meaning the Sharks have tallied 3.6 goals per hour with them on the ice and surrendered just 1.4 the other way.

    Obviously, the percentages have been kind to this line. San Jose converts on 11 percent of its shots; the opposition is on just six percent when this line is on the ice. Still, this is a line with a 56-44 edge in shot attempts. Combining that kind of possession number with Thornton's sublime passing and Pavelski's above-average finishing skills is a good way to win hockey games.

2. Anaheim Ducks

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    Christine Cotter/Associated Press

    The Line: Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. 

    The Story: The Anaheim Ducks have had a fair amount of fluctuation with their forward lines this year, and of late, head coach Bruce Boudreau has taken to splitting the dynamic duo of Getzlaf and Perry, using each player to anchor a separate offensive line and then running shutdown specialist Getzlaf on a third forward unit.

    Even when together, there has been some fluctuation at left wing. However, this trio has been together for about one-third of Getzlaf's ice-time this season. 

    Performance: In the five-plus hours this trio has played as a unit at 5-on-5, Anaheim has dominated both possession and goal metrics, with the Ducks recording 61 percent of all shot attempts taken and also 61 percent of all goals scored. Boudreau has made a serious effort to get them on the ice in the offensive zone, but even so, this is a dominant trio.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Line: Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist.

    The Story: The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a turbulent season, with highs and lows aplenty and the postseason still to come. One thing seems fairly certain: Barring poor health, they have found a line combination that works for Crosby. Of course, it was less a find and more a rediscovery; Crosby and Kunitz has worked for ages, and Hornqvist plays a complementary game to that duo. 

    Performance: Pittsburgh's resurgence in the back half of the season has been incredible, and this line has been a massive part of it.

    In just over five hours together, this trio has posted an incredible 62 percent Corsi. But the shot metrics pale in comparison to the goal differential. Pittsburgh has scored 30 goals and allowed just eight at 5-on-5 with these three on the ice.

    Admittedly, much of that is good fortune (a .938 save percentage plus a 14.3 on-ice shooting percentage), but it's the kind of good fortune that a line with 62 percent of all shot attempts sets itself up for. 


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