Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Do the Canucks Finally Have a Third Line?

Last night's three goal game for Raffi Torres was just the latest in a long line of bright spots for the Canucks' third line, a unit that, for four games, has been made up consistently of Jannik Hansen, Manny Malhotra, and Raffi Torres. In the first game of the Canucks' current four-game winning streak, Malhotra was the first star, netting the Canucks' third and fourth goals midway through the third period to put the game out of reach. Two games later, it was Raffi Torres opening the scoring with a goal that would wind up being the game-winner. Last night, the line topped two excellent games with a bigger trick, the first hat trick of Raffi Torres' career. Yes, the third line has been very, very good.

It's a welcome change from last season's third line, a unit that typically consisted of Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier, and Tanner Glass. While Wellwood had his moments (and we loved him for them), Bernier and Glass spent their time on the third line playing unmistakably like fourth liners. The unit's shifts were unproductive and forgettable. If not for top ten line play from the Canucks' first and second lines, it might have been even more glaring an issue than it was.

It was impossible to overlook in the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks showed us that depth across lines is vital for postseason success when they beat us in six games. Our lack of such depth was a major problem going into the offseason.

This problem appears to have been somewhat solved. Over the last four games, the third line has combined for 13 points. For comparative purposes, the Canucks' top line (The Sedins, and, until last night's game, Jeff Tambellini) has generated 9. The third line has been our highest scoring line during this win streak, a sentence that could never have been uttered last season.

But it's more than just offensive contributions; they're also defensively stellar. Over that same four-game stretch, the line is a combined plus-16. The Sedin line is minus-1.

Even separately, Hansen, Malhotra, and Torres have been major contributors at both ends of the ice. Until last night, Jannik Hansen hadn't been on the ice for a single goal against. He leads the team in plus-minus and hits among forwards. Manny Malhotra has been the Canucks' go-to faceoff man, taking draws in all three zones and being a lynchpin on the penalty kill. And Raffi Torres is second only to Daniel Sedin in goals.

The play of the third line is the primary reason the Canucks have won four straight. The Sedin line has been great, but not yet at the level at which they operate with a healthy Alex Burrows. The Raymond-Kesler-Samuelsson line is still struggling to regain last season's form, as Mikael Samuelsson especially is looking a little slower, his shot a little less accurate. Considering that last year's success rested primarily on the play of these top two lines, one would think diminished play from either would make four wins in a row nearly impossible. However, Malhotra, Hansen and Torres are outproducing these issues.


  1. Don't get me wrong, I love having a dominant third line, but the Canucks cannot afford to rely on it. It's nice to have them step up when the second doesn't, but Kesler's line needs to start contributing for me to be truly comfortable with a great third.

  2. Kesler's line will be better when Mason Raymond's hand heals up, I think.

    One point: there should be no such thing as "combined plus/minus" since the players, on a whole, are on the ice for the same goals. So any deviation from zero will grow exponentially and look artificially inflated. I'm guessing the line is somewhere around +4 in real life.

    Combined points is also something of an artifical, double-counting stat, with the players assisting on each other's goals. Since the total generation of goals is the desired outcome -- whether the forwards, defensemen on nobody get assists on the goals produced by a given line shouldn't be a commentary on their effectiveness.

  3. J21, you're correct about how manipulative combined stats can be. Stats in general can be manipulative.

    But, at the same time, they can also be extremely indicative of larger trends. In this case, I don't think it would have been fair to the guys to report these stats separately, because they don't tell the whole story. Hansen isn't putting up the points, really, but he's the team leader in plus/minus. Torres isn't putting up assists. But the three of them are skating together, and their line is making some massive contributions.

  4. ahem still waiting on "I watched this game"

  5. It's up, my friend. #someofushavelives


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