By Alexander Monaghan
Less than a month ago we discussed the most dominant lines in hockey. Just two weeks in, it was hard to determine what worked and what didn’t. Eighty two percent of voters liked either the Anaheim Ducks or the Vancouver Canucks but thus far one of these things is not like the other. Let’s take a look at how the top lines stack up.
(Editor’s note: We not only list the team’s top line but also their impact on the rest of their club. Moreover, if a team holds the same number it is because their top units are tied in production.)
9. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks recently combined their three highest scorers — Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture — in an attempt to kick-start their offense. Despite middle-of-the-pack production, their starting goalie Antti Niemi has allowed too many goals to get them wins as the team sits third in the Pacific Division with a goal differential of only four. Nevertheless, their top six keep on scoring as they roster four top-level natural centers. Should any of their offensive players get hurt, a fill in like Benn Ferriero or Torrey Mitchell would gain immediate fantasy hockey value.
9. Florida Panthers
The 2011 free agent class, aka Florida Panthers, have found themselves a strong scoring line in the combination of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg. Not only do these three dominate the opposition, they also paved way for GM Dale Tallon to ship out longtime Cat David Booth. The threesome combine for 46 percent of the team’s total offense which could be an indicator that they will not sustain their current output. Nevertheless, keep an eye on Kevin Dineen’s Panthers as the organization is building a contender from the ground up.
7. Ottawa Senators
One of the more surprising stories of the early going, the Sens have filled the net with an unexpected frequency. Most of it has been a healthy Milan Michalek being fed pucks by a revitalized Jason Spezza. Couple the two with budding power forward Colin Greening and the three have a surprising 19 goals. Their goals combine for 45 percent of the team’s total markers but the Sens have also gotten points from lesser-known forwards like Zach Smith and Chris Neil. As long as they continue scoring they may have a few more sleepers, especially when Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Regin return to the lineup.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts have two top lines which account for 70 percent of the team’s goals. More importantly, superstar Steven Stamkos has proved himself as the top dog in Tampa, dominating while playing with solid but unspectacular wingers Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell. Their second unit of Brett Connolly, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier could also be the best secondary scoring line in the entire league. With Malone currently listed as day-to-day a player like Nate Thompson or Ryan Shannon could get some temporary fantasy hockey value as a scoring line plug. One thing is for sure: a team coached by Guy Boucher will continue racking up the points.
5. Dallas Stars
Speaking of top heavy, the Stars have two solid lines followed by close to nothing on their bottom two lines. Even crazier than the Stars leading the Pacific Division is their “second line” leading the team in production. The emergence of Jamie Benn has certainly helped the cause as he pivots Loui Eriksson and Steve Ott, bringing a solid combination of grit, skill and power. While the top two lines account for 55 percent of their total production, their blue line with Trevor Daley, Sheldon Souray, Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski also generates a great deal of scoring. This team, with a steaming hot Kari Lehtonen, could actually sustain their early success.
5. Washington Capitals
The former President Trophy winning offense is back to clicking on a higher level. In fact, the only reason why the Caps’ top line is ranked so low is because they put newly-acquired winger Troy Brouwer on the top line to limited results. Their shuffling of lines seems to have actually worked this season with Marcus Johanssen, Cody Eakin and Mathieu Perreault all thriving under a competitive environment. Most importantly, they are winning as a team which may hurt the value of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin but also gives more deserving players a try.
2. Vancouver Canucks
Speaking of President’s Trophy, the Sedin Twins are back to defend their regular season title. Without Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond for most of the season and now Sami Salo and Alex Burrows, the two have kept the Canucks in the running. In the past two seasons a Sedin has won the Art Ross so expect one or both to get back into the mix. Furthermore, once the Kesler line returns to their expected level, the Canucks should have no problem putting up points both in games and in the standings.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
Are these Leafs for real? Well, their early-season offensive production is real thanks to some chemistry between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Right now the Leafs sit in the top five in scoring thanks to the Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin line providing above average secondary scoring. If this team could get more timely netminding while continuing scoring and defending well, they should be able to stay at the top of the standings. Hopefully their recent 7-0 loss is not a sign of things to come.
2. Buffalo Sabres
Although Tyler Ennis, Derek Roy and Ville Leino all have struggled, the top line of Luke Adam, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville stays red hot. The Sabres are relatively top heavy with their top two lines producing and fourth line scarcely finding the back of the net but that should not hinder any fantasy hockey owners from rostering their players. New owner Terry Pegula has committed his resources to icing a stronger lineup and thus far the plan has worked. Expect this mix of forwards to continue thriving under the uptempo offensive system of coach Lindy Ruff.
1. Philadelphia Flyers
Jaromir Jagr has been an amazing addition to the Flyers, gelling with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. Together they combine for a League leading 46 points — four more than the next troika. Together, this new-look Flyers force average nearly four goals a game due to their numerous blowout wins. At the rate this team is going, owning any scoring line forwards looks like a shrewd move. When Bob McKenzie recommended Matt Read as a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate he kept the system and supporting cast in mind. Not only does the top line dominate but everything GM Paul Holmgren touches seems to turns into gold.
Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers