Daniel and Henrik Sedin are fourth and fifth in league scoring, and Ryan Kesler is on pace for a 40-goal, Selke Trophy season. But superstars alone don’t win Stanley Cups. Champions need depth, and especially a dominant third line.
Consider the five Stanley Cup winners since the lockout, and their third lines.
Chicago: Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg
Pittsburgh: Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke
Detroit: Kris Draper, Dan Cleary and Dallas Drake
Anaheim: Travis Moen, Rob Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson
Carolina: Doug Weight, Mark Recchi and Ray Whitney
All five teams had hard-working third lines that could shut down the opposition and pop in clutch goals — pretty much everything Wellwood, Demitra and Bernier failed to do last spring.
Let’s pause for a moment’s gratitude those three are gone, and then meditate on their replacements.
Alain Vigneaut’s current incarnation of that third line has Malhotra between Torres and Samuelsson. Are they good enough?
Manny Malhotra is a quietly effective two-way player, and the league’s second-best faceoff man at 63.5%. That skill is even more important in the playoffs, where winning a defensive-zone faceoff with 30 seconds line can mean the difference between pulling out a win or heading to the golf course.
And Manny has some offensive flair as well. Remember that shorthanded breakaway goal against Detroit?
Raffi Torres has been fondly described as a bowling ball, scattering defenders as he works the boards. Torres was named the NHL’s first star of the week on November 8 after five goals in four games. Since then, he’s fallen into a slump, and his -2 is the worst plus/minus of any Canucks who’s played over 25 games.
Mikael Samuelsson may be this season’s greatest disappointment. After a 30-goal performance, he was a monster against the LA Kings, sniping 7 goals in the first round.
Despite starting the season with the twins, he was unable to capitalize and sunk to the second, and then the third line. (He may be the team’s fourth-leading scorer, but only because Burrows, Raymond and Tambellini have played fewer games.)
Even worse, Samuelsson’s been prone to making brutal giveaways, like this one leading to Daniel Briere’s goal on Tuesday.
Then again, Samuelsson has the greatest upside of the third line members. If he ever finds his shot (and his brain) again, he has the ability to take over a game and even a series.
Is the third line good enough? It can be. It all depends on two streaky players coming into their own at the opportune moment.
Let’s hope Torres and Samuelsson are banking the magic for springtime.