The Devils top line has been on fire the last nine games. Superstar wingers Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are beginning to produce at the level we have been waiting for since the beginning of last season. Rookie center Adam Henrique has been put in the middle and asked to play up to their level at age 21 and has not missed a beat. The Devils have won 4 of their last 5 games, and this line has been a big reason for that. They have controlled play and scored goals in all situations as well as in a timely fashion.
This line has not been recently put together. They have been together for most of the season and it's taken a while for them to gel. Devils fans all around and some around here at In Lou We Trust have lobbied to split this line up, and I can't say I blamed them. The counterargument was keep them together for the sake of keeping the Dainius Zubrus - Patrik Elias - Petr Sykora together (the Devils best line of the season at that time). Currently, I feel these arguments may have to be put on hold - at least until Zajac has played in a few games, has got his game legs and timing down, and is completely 100% ready to play the way we know he can play. Until then - 9-14-17 - should stay together.
In their last nine games, they have tallied 12 goals, 21 assists with a shooting percentage at 13.64%. It's pretty remarkable. I have a little more after the jump, including some more stats and additional thoughts.
Here's their stat line in the last 9 games (since the second Islanders game).
The 33 points in nine games averages to 3.67 points per game. Each player is averaging over a point per game. The only game neither of them scored was against Montreal. We all know Parise had the chance to tie the game late on the penalty shot attempt - but we won't hold that against him.They have 1 goal and 3 assists on the powerplay and 2 goals and 2 assists on NHL's best penalty kill. They can score at any time - no matter how many they are up against.
I find it very interesting that it's not just one player who has elevated his game while the others are just catalysts benefiting their point totals. They have relatively the same amount of goals and points. The scoring has been evenly divided and 21 assists to go alone with that suggest the forwards are passing a lot to generate chances - A huge sign of chemistry. Their 88 shots average to just under 10 shots per game. The majority of those are from Parise and Kovalchuk - which is not unexpected. Henrique has been able to score 3 goals on just 15 shots - a great shooting percentage. Henrique is shooting 14.6% this season and that will decrease over time. Parise is shooting at his career rate (11.4%) and Kovalchuk is near his (14.4%). I would not be surprised if both Number 9 and Number 17 can keep this rate up. Like I said - this is the level we expected of them. They are the Devils 1-2 punch.
As the top line - they are on the ice a lot. They each average over 20 minutes per game. Each average over a minute on both the powerplay (Kovalchuk more than Parise and he more than Henrique) and the penalty kill (Parise and Henrique more than Kovy). Some and I have wondered if this is ultimately related to the sluggish 3rd periods. Recently they have been much better - fighting to comeback against the Habs; holding a lead against Tampa; and fulfilling a comeback against Florida. This line has had a lot to do with that.
TimeOnIce.com has a great way to look at Corsi and Fenwick numbers for certain games. This link is the entire team's shooting attempt stats (at even strength excluding empty net situations) for the last 9 games. I will just concentrate on the top line (but some other numbers are interesting to say the least).
From a even strength standpoint - no player on the ice is "minus." Henrique has been on for 10 goals for and 7 against; Kovy 11 each, and Parise 11 for and 7 against. This isn't that good - and playing against other team's top competition doesn't help - but it's a better stat (conceptually and in this instance) than plus/minus.
Each player has been very good in terms of Fenwick % (shots + missed shots). This is Fenwick events for divided by total Fenwick events. Henrique is at 55.5%, Kovy at 53.0%, Parise at 56.1%. Kovy's number get decreased a bit for playing on the 4th line, which strangely doesn't get a lot of shooting attempts off. Looking through the rest of the team, they are actually second best behind the Elias line. In terms of Corsi % (Fenwick plus blocked shots), they are even better. Henrique at 58.2%, Kovy at 55.3%, Parise at 58.7%. This is slightly better than the Elias line.
Close to 60% of all shooting attempts have been by this line when they are on the ice. That's a great way to get goals and more importantly prevent them. Initially, they would get rocked in terms of even strength attempts. This was mostly due to a lack of sustained pressure in the zone. They would get into the zone - and maybe create one or two attempts. Recently - they have been able to get into the zone - get an attempt and get to that loose puck. Another reason for the increase in attempt % is patience. They are not looking to get rid of the puck and get it to the net as quick as possible. They have been holding the puck - looking around, seeing what could develop and creating chances. Dynamic players like Parise and Kovalchuk have a natural ability to find open areas and exploit them. All together - their speed, passing ability, and high shooting percentage has produced great Corsi and Fenwick %'s and even better: Goals.
So why all of a sudden? Why now? Why not before?
Well it's actually quite simple. These guys, including Henrique who has less than 30 games of NHL experience - just needed the time to get to know each other on the ice. These aren't role players that can be thrown around like the Tedenby's and Palmieri's and Zubrus' and can just "play their game."Parise and Kovlachuk have different ways of getting to open areas - they skate and handle the puck and pass the puck at different times and areas in the zone as well. They seem to know where each other is and are going now. You can't learn this in practice - it has to be games.
Overall, I'm stoked about this line getting it together and getting the goals they deserve. I want them together until they show they can't play together. I know Zajac is coming back and he will eventually be 100% and DeBoer is going have a great problem to have. For now - let's hope they keep it up. So what do you think about this line? What have you seen during games that has got either as stoked as me? (Or some things that make you worrisome?).