I’m going to admit something to you: this piece was originally going to be a breakdown of why the Ducks shutdown line wasn’t shutting people down anymore and how they have become a defensive liability on the ice.
But life happened and I got a little lazy and just put it off. Apparently, Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano, and Jakob Silfverberg got wind of my intentions and decided they wanted to change the narrative. And it looks like they’re succeeding.
Anyone who has watched the Ducks since Kesler’s return has noticed that the shutdown line wasn’t really, you know, shutting players down. Kesler looked like he was struggling to keep up out on the ice so much that Randy Carlyle was quoted as saying that he was still struggling through some things.
And while it still looks like Kesler isn’t completely at 100% on some nights, he and his line mates seem to have found some of that chemistry that was eluding them earlier this season.
The proof is in the numbers
Right around the end of February, something clicked for this line.
In their last 11 games dating back to February 22nd against Arizona, the shutdown line has posted an impressive 56.36 CF%, 80% GF% (although it’s a relatively small sample of 4 goals for and 1 against), 50.42 SCF%, and 46.94 HDCF%.
The scoring chances are pretty much dead even, and high dangerous chances could be a bit better, but the fact that they have only allowed 1 goal while on the ice in their last 11 games of 5 on 5 play combined with a pretty convincing lead in driving play through shot attempts signals that they are returning to form.
Compare this with the previous 22 games the line played dating back to Kesler’s season debut: 43.65 CF%, 38.46 GF%, 40.71 SCF%, and 38.98 HDCF%. It’s absolutely a night an day difference.
Now you may be thinking, “But CJ, they’ve been playing against weak competition”. First off, this line is playing way better than they were before; never mind the competition. Can you be happy about something for once in your life?
Second off, while the sample sizes are different, this recent 11 game stretch of good play has come against teams in the playoff hunt like Columbus, Washington, St. Louis, New Jersey, and, believe it or not, Nashville.
Yes, the shutdown line had a fantastic game against Nashville as far as play driving metrics go with an outstanding 64.29 CF%, 66.67 SCF% (2-1), and 100 HDCF% (2-0). Score and venue adjusting these numbers only knocks down the CF% to around 60. They also controlled more than 55% of the shot attempts against the Johansen line. An interesting note is that this combo was not hard-matched against the Predators top line. That honor went to the top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Rickard Rakell. Still, with less minutes against the top line, they more than held their own and didn’t allow much of anything to any of their competition when they were on the ice, despite the results of the game.
Good news for a playoff run
Obviously a playoff spot is far from assured for the Ducks at this point. As of this writing, Anaheim is in the second Wild Card spot, tied in points with the LA Kings. But the shutdown line returning to form and actually playing the role Randy Carlyle wants them to play will be huge for the team attempting to make any sort of playoff run.
Yes, this line could be contributing a bit more offensively, with only 4 goals for in the most recent 11 games, but they've been far from being a liability with only 1 goal against, though goaltending likely shares a good portion of the credit for this.
Bottom line: Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano, and Jakob Silfverberg are clicking together at the right time. While they are still getting better and dragging their season statistics out from the gutter, there is reason to believe that they have just now started being the effective two-way line their reputation carries.
Indeed, this trio may be on the verge of breaking out. Over their last 3 games, they have averaged 63.79 CF%, 56.25 SCF%, 54.55 HDCF%, and 2 goals for with none against. If they are able to sustain this level of play from now until the end of the season, we should see the offensive contributions of this line begin to flow.
It may have taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (from the fans), but it appears the shutdown line is back. Just in time.