Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Best Forward Line In NY/NJ Area Hockey Is...?

From the desks of:

Which Metropolitan Area Hockey Club
Sports The Best Forward Line?

New York Rangers  -  New Jersey Devils  -  New York Islanders

At this time last season, the New York Islanders had the best forward line in hockey.  The trio of John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo, wound up cranking out ninety one goals last season.  This season, Tavares and Moulson have been joined primarily by Brad Boyes.  Kyle Okposo has been put on, then taken off the line this season.  Truth is, last season didn't go as smoothly as Kyle  would have liked.  And presently, his game is skating in sand again.  Okposo is an enigma who remains woefully inefficient for his talent.  He has one goal and four assists so far.  So, Brad Boyes, the team's third leading scorer, has been getting most of the wing action on the first line.

Last week on Valentine's Day, the Isles' line of Martin/McDonald/Cizikas put the Rangers forward line of Gaborik/Callahan/Richards under house arrest, completely shutting them down on MSG ice.  While they took care of the Blueshirts top trio, John Tavares' line took care of the rest.  In his last two games against the Rangers and Devils, Tavares has four regulation time goals; a hat trick against the Devils, and a game tying goal, as well as a shoot-out winner against the Rangers.  John Tavares now has eleven goals in his last ten games.  Along with nine assists, he has twenty points this season.

Matt Moulson is not far behind.  He has seventeen points this season, and leads the team with ten assists.  Together, Matt Moulson and John Tavares have combined to score eighteen goals, assist on nineteen others, and have thirty seven points between them.  If we add Brad Boyes' four goals and eight assists, the line has produced forty nine points.

In New Jersey, David Clarkson continues to give the Atlantic Division hell.  He is out to prove last year's thirty goal season was no fluke.  With ten goals already in fifteen games, Clarkson is well on his way.  He plays on the second line along side Patrick Elias and Adam Henrique.  With six assists, David Clarkson has sixteen points this season.  Patrick Elias is having a renaissance season.  He has four goals, and leads the team with fifteen assists, and nineteen points.  Adam Henrique was a late comer to the ice after first having to recover from off-season surgery.  In ten games, he has contributed four goals and two assists.  Combined, this line has scored eighteen goals, assisted on twenty three more, and have produced thirty one points.  The Devils first line however, is now comprised of recently re-acquired Alexi Panikarovsky, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Travis Zajac.  Kovalchuk and Zajac have combined on eight goals and twelve assists, for twenty points - mostly by Kovalchuk's doing.  Coach DeBoer has at times included Adam Henrique, David Clarkson and Stephane Matteau on this line.

The Devils lost a lot of production with Zach Parise's departure to Minnesota.  Ilya Kovalchuk's goals are down if only somewhat since his Atlanta days.  This is due in part for having sacrificed somewhat to fit into the Devils system.  Being the Devils are in first place, the Devils philosophy clearly trumps personal achievement.  And so, Kovalchuk should be fine.  He recorded his 800th NHL point recently.

The Rangers top line - the Rangers have no top line.  Not with the way Coach Torts mixes and matches throughout games.  As a Rangers fan, I would like for Coach to set his lines and stick with them.  In a shortened season, sometimes thinking needs to bend and adapt to circumstances.  There is little time for experimentation right now.  That said, Brad Richards has made setting the forward lines a bit of a task.  His struggles have reached prolific levels, and so Brad Richards was shown the bench last week versus the Islanders.  He was skipped over during numerous third period shifts, and  additionally sat out a power play opportunity before Coach returned him to the ice for overtime.  Much more noticeable than Brad's shortcomings however, was the way John Tavares and his line skated circles around the Rangers on Valentine's Day from literally the beginning of the game, all the way to the end.

Coach Torts started the season stacking the first line with Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik.  But when the third and fourth lines crumbled, the GM tweaked the roster, while Coach relented and spread forwards around.  Brad Richards now skates on one of the top two lines with Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan.  The three have combined to score twelve goals, assist on thirteen others, and produce twenty five points.  Marian Gaborik is the team's leading scorer with six goals, four assists, and eleven points.  While Brad Richards is the provider of two scant goals, and eight assists.

The Rangers other-other first line is presently comprised of new stud import, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin.  Rick Nash's numbers look like the rest of the Blueshirts - average.  He has three goals and eight assists.  Though his numbers aren't reflective of his skill, his overall play has met fan's expectations so far.  However, the relentless Carl Hagelin has been the Rangers best forward lately.  He too sits at eight points for the season.  But he has four goals in his last three games.  Even if you mix and match the Rangers three top forwards, they still wouldn't equate with the production the Devils and Islanders top lines are pumping out.

Since arriving in the NHL, the Islanders top line featuring John Tavares has competed with every one of the league's best forward trios.  With so many other issues befalling the Islanders however, no one hardly seems to notice.  The Islanders are presently winners of two in a row.  The John Tavares/Matt Moulson combo has spent the last two games providing the other two area hockey clubs with a tutorial in first line scoring.  The Islanders clearly sport the top line in the NY/NJ hockey area.  In a more closely contested comparison, the John Tavares/Matt Moulson combo also holds a slight points scored advantage (39/35) over the Devils David Clarkson/Patrick Elias duo.  The top Rangers combo?  I'm a fan.  Why would I want to embarrass them?

Islander fans can only help but think, if only there was a correlation between first line play, and positioning in the standings.  But the papers say the Islanders are in fourth place, two points behind the Rangers, and eight points behind the Devils.  The Rangers, with by far the most unsettled forward lines of the three teams, play as Coach Torts dictates.  While in New Jersey, the Devils just continue to adhere to their system, and win.


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