The Ducks have gone on a pretty impressive 4-1-1 stretch. It isn't time to get happy or think playoffs, but it is time for the Ducks to make sure they have their lines worked out to keep the wins coming.
The Ducks top line, which was carrying the offensive load for long stretches (see Perry's 19 game point streak) has started to cool down in 5-on-5 play. In recent games, the vast majority of scoring done by Getzlaf and Perry has been done on the power play, and while scoring chances haven't dried up completely, the lack of production should be a concern. Additionally, Getzlaf, Perry, and Calder are -3, -4, and -3 respectively in their last 5 games.
It's not a far leap to say that the top line has greatly deteriorated since Calder took over for Lupul. However, as the Ducks other three line begin to solidify in play and chemistry, the options for shaking up the top line seem to be dwindling. Arthur, do the Ducks tough it out with Calder, or is it time to explore other options either through trade or within the organization?
Well, first, I should say that if someone scoring on the power play is a problem, we should've gotten rid of Teemu during the 2005-06 season. And second, I think it's dangerous to characterize this line in terms of +/- when they're playing against top lines, something that Kyle Calder probably has the most experience doing. By that criterion, Getzlaf is probably the weak link. I wouldn't call it 'toughing it out,' but if the question is can Kyle Calder learn to cycle the puck effectively enough to play as a passenger with Getzlaf and Perry, then yes, he can.
J.P. Hoornstra had a good article today about whether or not the Ducks have become a 'fastbreak' team. And I think they have; the success of Dan Sexton speaks to that. Despite their dumping and grinding of late, this team is creating its opportunities with speed. In that sense, the top line has become a last bastion of the old Ducks, the Big, Bad Ducks, who thrived on the cycle and the swarm. It seems strange to say it, but the top line, which plays against the opposing top line and dumps and grinds the puck into the corners, is morphing into the team's new shutdown line. And that's not bad hockey. If they can learn to get the other team's top players off the ice tired, then the other lines can open up the game without fear of being beat in transition.
That doesn't mean the top line won't score. They've always cycled the puck, and they can certainly score while doing it, even against more dangerous competition. But we can't expect the same offensive production, especially when they are learning to be defensively conscious of the opposing line. We certainly can't expect that putting someone more offensively skilled in place of Calder will turn them into plus players against the best lines in the NHL.
We can probably put a better checker in place of Calder to create some marginal improvement, but nothing we do, including putting Lupul or Selanne on the top line is guaranteed to turn Marleau-Thornton-Heatley into minus players.
I see the transition in offense and I also see how the top line isn't built for that style. However, I think there is a great concern in terms of how the top line is producing in even strength situations. I know that Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan were an effective stopper line last year.
I don't think they were any more effective than this trio. I mean, if you factor in the Detroit series, where Marchant spent most of his time with Datsyuk's line, then Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan were 18 P, 14 P and 7 P, +3, +2 and Even respectively. That seems just as much of a defensive liability as this -3, -4, -3 group, and that first trio had Chris Pronger. Maybe Ryan could re-create their OFFENSIVE dominance, but that's where he played to open the season and he was snakebit.
Well, I think that's what we're losing. We're losing the possibility for this line to score enough to make up for the defensive liability. The fact is, the Ducks top line is only effective when it has control of the puck. It's not like the original stopper line that was just as effective in the defensive zone as it was in the offensive zone. Once the puck gets turned over the top line usually relies on the D to generate the turnover or for a clutch save. I'm not saying they are completely irresponsible in their own end, or that they are ever shy to go into the corners, rather they just aren't as good at waiting out the opposition and denying quality chances. The only value of putting the top line against other teams' top lines is the hope that Getzlaf and Perry will find a way to spend more time in the other team's zone than their own, as you've already said.
I know that they are still getting it done on the power play, and no one will say that's a waste, nor did I mean to imply that. I'm just saying that if this line isn't being productive at even strength, chances are, they are not fulfilling their stopper role appropriately.
On that note, I DO think it's time to explore other options. Maybe it's my imagination, but I just don't think Calder is contributing to the chemistry of the line. We've had a lot of success with our prospects this year, so far, and it might be time to go back to the well. I know Logan MacMillan needs a chance at the NHL level before we give up on him, and he could certainly play defensive hockey on that line. But if we don't do something, then our top line's even strength play is going to be a problem against the great lines in the league, not unless Calder shows the improvement that you think he will.