In the era of the shift-to-shift, game-to-game line blender, there’s something special about a trio that plays together, stays together and clicks. And this season, as much as ever, we’ve seen a few units form and put the opposition on notice.
In the early season, we saw one trio in particular, the Philadelphia Flyers' group of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier, put the pressure on defenders with dominating offensive play. The line was led, of course, by Giroux and Vorcaek, who have long been two of the Flyers' best weapons, but the breakout play of Couturier, who shed his all-defense skin to showcase some offensive brilliance of his own, was what really made the unit come together. Across more than 325 minutes skating together at even strength, the trio contributed to 23 goals for the Flyers, making it the most effective three-man unit not just in Philadelphia, but the entire league.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia faithful, the line had to come to an end. Amidst a 10-game losing streak and desperation to find something, anything, to snap out of the run, the trio was split up and across the past four games, all of which have been victories for the Flyers, Wayne Simmonds has replaced Voracek on the top unit, with the veteran winger shifting down to skate alongside Valtteri Filppula and Michael Raffl. Fear not, though, because the Giroux-Voracek-Couturier line isn’t necessarily finished for good. The three have still skated out together on the power play, a unit which has been excellent during this current four-game win streak, and they no doubt remain the nuclear option for coach Dave Hakstol.
But with the Flyers’ top trio done for now, here are 10 other lines that are currently playing together and making noise:
Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov — Tampa Bay Lightning
The logical starting point here is with the top line from the top team in the league, and despite being broken up for a brief moment, Lightning coach Jon Cooper has thrown Kucherov, Stamkos and Namestnikov back together to bludgeon the opposition. And bludgeon they have this season. Stamkos has acted as set-up man, picking up 30 assists and 42 points, while Kucherov has been the primary sniper with 21 goals and 42 points of his own. The sneaky scorer of the bunch has been Namestnikov, whose 12 goals and 27 points put him on pace to absolutely destroy his previous career-best marks.
Add it all together and, of the lines on this list, no trio has been on the ice for more even-strength goals than Kucherov, Stamkos and Namestnikov, who have been a part of 20 for the Lightning. They’re a game-breaking trio.
John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee — New York Islanders
When one line contains two of the top 15 point producers in the league – and two of the top five goal-scorers – it’s fairly safe to say the unit is clicking. Tavares is the leader of the trio, potting 18 goals and 32 points this season, but Bailey has the slight edge with a surprising 33 points to his name. Bailey’s excellent campaign has been thanks to his set-up skills, as he’s played playmaker with 28 assists. Only three players have more. And Lee’s contributions certainly shouldn’t go overlooked, considering he's amassed 17 goals and 30 points.
All told, the line has been on ice for 14 goals at even strength and is helping to generate 3.54 goals per 60 minutes as the driving force behind one of the league’s best offenses. If there’s one knock against the trio, it’s that the possession rate has been mediocre despite a favorable slant of offensive-zone starts.
Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo — Los Angeles Kings
The resurgence of Kopitar and Brown has been one of the big stories for the Kings this season. Both were coming off of disappointing 2016-17 campaigns — in Brown’s case, he had a string of down years — but it seems the addition of the young blood, Iafallo, to the unit has pumped some life into L.A.'s veterans. Kopitar, especially, has been excellent, as he sits sixth in league scoring with 38 points, which includes 16 goals. Brown has likewise shown a greater offensive flair than he has in recent years with 12 goals and 26 points of his own. As for the rookie Iafallo, the University of Minnesota-Duluth product has only two goals and 10 points, but his speed has had tremendous impact.
Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor — Winnipeg Jets
Having started the season with a brief stint in the AHL, it’s rather impressive to see Connor make the list, particularly given how he has fit right alongside two of Winnipeg’s premier offensive players and turned a tremendous twosome into a high-scoring trio. With Scheifele down the middle and Wheeler on the other wing, Connor has already potted 10 goals and 19 points to insert himself right into the thick of the Calder Trophy race. Meanwhile, Wheeler and Scheifele are as consistent a pair as there is in the league, sitting tied for fourth and 10th in league scoring, respectively.
Much like the Islanders’ first line, though, the unit’s biggest challenge has been generating and maintaining possession. Winnipeg’s top trio has a relative possession rate roughly five percent worse than other Jets units. Offensively, though, they're easily the most effective.
Artemi Panarin, Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois — Columbus Blue Jackets
The so-called 'PB&J Line' wasn’t formed until somewhat recently, but it’s quickly becoming one of the league’s most difficult to defend and has allowed Dubois, especially, to break out of his shell and become the player the Blue Jackets believed he could be when selecting him third overall in the 2016 draft. Sent back to the QMJHL last season without even a one-game look at the NHL level, Dubois started slowly with one point, a goal, in his first dozen games this season, but has since netted four goals and 12 points in his past 19 contests.
Much of that offense has come with his new linemates, too. Across 14 games and roughly 141 minutes together, Panarin, Anderson and Dubois have found the chemistry necessary to help produce nine goals at even strength — more than 3.8 goals per 60 minutes — and dominate the possession game with an unrivalled 66.2 percent Corsi for percentage.
Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — Nashville Predators
Johansen has been sidelined recently, leading to some line-juggling on the part of the Predators, but with a return near, it would shock no one for coach Peter Laviolette to go right back to his most lethal line. While the trio doesn’t stand out when running down the top scorers and Forsberg is the only Predator even in the league’s top 50 — he has 14 goals and 29 points — the unit has worked together to produce a bundle for Nashville.
In fact, in 205 minutes at even strength, Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson have had a hand in 13 goals for the Predators while only surrendering six against. That’s good for a 68.4 goals for percentage at evens, the fourth-best mark among listed lines, which shouldn’t be all that surprising given the trio’s 56.4 percent possession rate.
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak — Boston Bruins
Here’s something that should come as a shock to no one: a line with Bergeron on it, one of the greatest two-way forwards to ever play the game, is putting together an absolutely outstanding defensive performance this season. How great has the Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak trio been defensively? Well, in nearly 120 minutes at even strength, the three haven’t been on the ice together for a single goal against. Zero. Nada. Zip.
The line hasn’t been all defense, though, as they’ve had a nearly 65-percent possession rate and a hand in seven Bruins goals for at even strength. Boston has slowly risen up the Atlantic Division standings and has a great 10-game run going. The Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak combination has played no small part in that.
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Micheal Ferland — Calgary Flames
If there are any two scorers quietly going about their business this season, it’s Gaudreau and Monahan. He’s not making the noise that other top point-getters such as Stamkos, Kucherov or provincial rival Connor McDavid has this season, but Gaudreau, with 12 goals and 38 points, sits tied for fourth spot in the league, while Monahan has rifled home 17 goals to sit fourth in the Rocket Richard race.
The odd man out, it would seem, is Ferland, but don’t sleep on his worth. He’s the rough-and-tumble winger who has been digging pucks out for his linemates and earning his keep. He has 12 goals and 17 points, helping the line generate 2.9 goals per 60 minutes at even strength.
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson — Washington Capitals
Ovechkin and Backstrom are no strangers to playing alongside one another, but Wilson’s addition to the duo has been impactful. Though they’ve only skated 123 minutes together, second-fewest among listed lines behind the Bruins’ group, one of coach Barry Trotz’s newest creations has managed to have a hand in 10 Washington goals at even strength while giving up just two while on the ice together.
Ovechkin, of course, has been the primary sniper as Backstrom settles into his familiar role at dynamic playmaking pivot, but Wilson has been able to contribute, too. Over his past 11 games, during which time his average ice time has leapt by more than three minutes, Wilson has three goals and nine points as a top-line winger. If he keeps this up, he could be the perfect power forward to complement Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz — St. Louis Blues
The numbers don’t lie. At even strength, the trio has been on the ice for 17 goals for while watching the opposition score just three. They’ve boasted a near 60 percent Corsi for percentage. Per 60 minutes together, Schenn, Tarasenko and Schwartz were producing more than 4.5 goals. And the result was that all three were in the top 20 of NHL scoring, Schenn leading the way with 37 points, followed closely by Schwartz (35) and Tarasenko (33).
However, while dominant, it sadly feels as though this line has to be listed last because it won’t be seen again for at least six weeks. Right in the midst of a dream season, undoubtedly the best of his young career, Schwartz has been shelved for a month-plus with an ankle injury, meaning, for the time being, Schenn and Tarasenko are left to be a two-man wrecking crew.
(All advanced statistics via Corsica)
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.