Lydia Cruz’s 2 Minute Minor: Explaining line combinations for prospective NHL Seattle fans
Hockey is the best sport to watch live (don’t @ me, haters).
Listen, I love the strategic chess match between pitcher and batter that plays out over nine frames of baseball. I love the physical, unrelenting nature of football and the flair and finesse of basketball. Take all those elements and toss them in a blender, pulse on high for three 20-minute periods and you get hockey. It is everything we love about sports, just played at a faster, more unforgiving pace.
Speed can repel people from a sport as easily as it draws them in. The prospect of following everything that plays out on the ice can be intimidating. At any given moment there are 12 players gliding across the ice, the fastest of whom can skate 30 mph. That’s a lot to follow. Enter me, your new best friend and hockey-watching partner. I promise I’m fun. And today, new friend, we’re taking a look at the basics of line combinations.
A line is composed of three players, two wingers and a centre. Yes, centre – respect the R-E. Teams are allowed to suit up 20 players per game – 18 skaters and two goaltenders. Six of those skaters are defenseman. The remaining 12 are forwards, deployed in three-man line combinations.
Teams can build their offensive attack in a variety of different ways. Some squads want a consistent look across all four lines, others construct trios with distinct personalities and skillsets to accomplish specific goals. But in essence, the top six skaters are a team’s best chance at scoring goals. This is where you’re bound to find captains, stars and snipers born for the spotlight. The bottom six are more than capable of creating offensive opportunities, but these lines are often built around physicality, energy, face-off specialization or the general ability to wreak havoc. The fourth line in particular is a thing of wonder. It’s like the hockey island of misfit toys, if the toys were designed to grind, check and brawl.
I won’t bore you with a history lesson at this point in our burgeoning relationship, but I recommend researching some of the greatest lines in NHL history for extra credit. With names like The French Connection, The Sky Line and The Trio Grande, how can you resist?
If hockey history ain’t your thing, no problem. There are plenty of current players that deserve your attention. Here are three lines to watch this NHL season.
Brad Marchand (LW), Patrice Bergeron (C), David Pastrnak (RW)
The Bruins’ offensive juggernaut is oft referred to as “The Perfection Line.” A little pretentious to be sure, but also hard to argue. There’s 33 years of experience on this line (all played in Boston), over 700 goals and 1,658 points. Marchand and Bergeron have been a duo since the 2010-11 season and survived a revolving door of right wingers in the process. Pastrnak, AKA Pasta, completed the trifecta in 2018 and they remain one of the most formidable lines in the NHL.
Gabriel Landeskog (LW), Nathan MacKinnon (C), Mikko Rantanen (RW)
The Avalanche’s first line is both elite and young, a terrifying combination. It’s composed of three former first-round picks and two former winners of the Calder Memorial Trophy, the NHL’s annual award for outstanding performance by a rookie. On the left, you have team captain Gabriel Landeskog, who has played over 80 games while posting 50-plus points in multiple seasons. On the opposite side is the left-shooting right winger Mikko Rantanen, who has already posted over 200 points by age 22. And then there’s Nathan MacKinnon. The first former No. 1 overall selection anchors the operation from centre, scoring 80 goals over his last two campaigns and consistently throwing his name in the Hart Memorial Trophy conversation.
Tamp Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos (LW), Tyler Johnson/Brayden Point [Injured] (C), Nikita Kucherov (RW)
Excuse the ill-advised pun, but the Lightning’s first line is electric. Nikita Kucherov is not just the best right winger in the league, he’s currently the best player, according to Corsica rankings. In 2018, the three-time All-Star led hockey in assists (87), points (128), points per game (1.56), goals created (45.5) and point shares (14.6). And oh yeah, he took home the Hart Trophy. On the left side is Steven Stamkos, a two-time All-Star and two-time Richard Trophy Winner. Brayden Point is currently sidelined as he recovers from hip surgery, but the 23-year old play-maker will likely rejoin his line this month, reuniting this intimidating trio.