Ranking the 10 Hottest Lines Early in 2013-14 NHL Season

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2013

Ranking the 10 Hottest Lines Early in 2013-14 NHL Season

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    You won't find Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, nor will you find David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla of the Boston Bruins.

    Through the first weeks of the 2013-14 season, those players were not manning the hottest lines in the NHL.

    While both of those lines will certainly have a huge impact on their teams this season, they are not dominating at this point.

    Here are the 10 hottest lines through the first three weeks of the season. 

    (Thanks to Dobberhockey.com for ice-time breakdown of each of the lines.)

10. Johansson, Backstrom, Ovechkin; Washington Capitals

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Line breakdown: LW Marcus Johansson, C Nicklas Backstrom, RW Alex Ovechkin

    Notable numbers: Ovechkin is the superstar of this trio and he has started the year in explosive fashion with seven goals and three assists. Ovechkin has fired 54 shots on net and he has connected on 13.0 percent of his shots. Backstrom has one goal and eight assists and is a slick passer. Johansson is still looking for his first goal, but he already has six assists.

    Why the line works: Ovechkin, who came on with a rush at the end of last year's lockout-shortened season to win the NHL's goal-scoring title with 32 strikes, is motivated for another huge year since the Olympics will be in his home country of Russia in 2014. Head coach Adam Oates put the trio on the ice 43.3 percent of the time in the last three games. 

9. Galchenyuk, Eller, Gallagher; Montreal Canadiens

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    Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

    Line breakdown: LW Alex Galchenyuk, C Lars Eller, RW Brendan Gallagher

    Notable numbers: Eller (eight points), Galchenyuk (seven points) and Gallagher (six points) are the second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers on the Canadiens behind defenseman P.K. Subban's 10 points. Eller has scored five goals and has a 25.0 shooting percentage. Galchenyuk has six assists, while two of the feisty Gallagher's four goals have been scored on the power play.

    Why the line works: Eller has shown considerable improvement and is attacking the net with courage and skill, while Galchenyuk and Gallagher show growth in their second year. Head coach Michel Therrien has confidence in this unit, as he uses them more than any other Montreal forward line. That line has seen the ice 41.5 percent of the time over the Canadiens' last three games.

8. Raymond, Bozak, Kessel; Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Line breakdown: LW Mason Raymond, C Tyler Bozak, RW Phil Kessel

    Notable numbers: Raymond and Kessel are tied for second on the Leafs in scoring with eight points each. Bozak has three goals, two assists and a 25.0 shooting percentage. Head coach Randy Carlyle switches his lines around, but he appears to have settled on Raymond as the left wing for Kessel and Bozak. Kessel is one of the league's top snipers, and he is just warming up with two goals at this point in the season. 

    Why the line works: Bozak and Kessel know each other well and enjoy playing together. Raymond earned his spot on the Maple Leafs with his training camp performance, and his effort has been excellent since the start of the regular season. The trio was on the ice 37.6 percent of the time during the Leafs' last three games.

7. Kesler, Sedin, Sedin; Vancouver Canucks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Line breakdown: LW Ryan Kesler, C Daniel Sedin, RW Henrik Sedin

    Notable numbers: Kesler and Henrik Sedin see a lot of time on the fourth line as well as the top line. Kesler has been dogged by injuries each of the last two years, but he appears to be back at full health this year and he is averaging 21:32 of ice time per game.

    Kesler has three goals and one assist this season. Henrik Sedin has scored two goals and 10 assists, while Daniel Sedin has two goals and six assists

    Why the line works: More than the numbers the line has put together this year, the Sedin brothers and Kesler manage to control the puck and pass it exceptionally well. While it seemed that John Tortorella might not be a good mix for the Canucks, he recognizes the Sedins for the talents that they possess. Kesler and the two Sedins were on the ice 33.8 percent of the time together over the Canucks' last three games.

6. Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Alfredsson; Detroit Red Wings

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Line breakdown: LW Henrik Zetterberg, C Pavel Datsyuk, RW Daniel Alfredsson

    Notable numbers: Zetterberg and Datsyuk are tied for the team lead in scoring with 11 points each, and Alfredsson is right behind with nine points. 

    The trio is simply dominant with the puck. They have combined to fire 102 shots on goal in 10 games, and Zetterberg and Datsyuk have plus-six ratings.

    Why the line works: Perhaps head coach Mike Babcock wanted to assure that Alfredsson's transition to Detroit would be a smooth one and that's why he put the veteran right winger on the same line with Detroit's two most skilled players. The move is working, because the line appears to be getting more cohesive with each shift. They were on the ice together 32.1 percent of the time over the last three games.

5. Grabner, Tavares, Okposo; New York Islanders

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    Line breakdown: LW Michael Grabner, C John Tavares, RW Kyle Okposo

    Notable numbers: While Tavares is the center piece of the line and one of the best players in the NHL, the speed of Grabner and the grit and work ethic of Okposo make this line go.

    Tavares has four goals and six assists in his first eight games of the year, and he is averaging 20:40 of ice time per game. Okposo has three goals and five assists and a plus-two rating. The explosive Grabner has found the back of the net twice and he also has six assists.

    Why the line works: Tavares is one of the most gifted and hardest working players in the NHL, and when a player combines those two aspects, he is going to be nearly unstoppable.

    Head coach Jack Capuano knows that his team has its best chance to strive when Tavares, Grabner and Okposo are on the ice together. He puts them together for 32.0 percent of the game. Don't be surprised if that number goes up as the season progresses.

4. Hertl, Thornton, Burns; San Jose Sharks

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    Line breakdown: LW Tomas Hertl, C Joe Thornton, RW Brent Burns

    Notable numbers: Hertl is the early favorite for rookie of the year after his four-goal game against the New York Rangers Oct. 8, that included the spectacular between-the-legs moved featured above.

    He has seven goals and three assists in his first nine games. His play has inspired veteran center Joe Thornton, who has contributed one goal and nine assists. Burns missed the Oct. 21 game at Detroit as a result of taking a high stick in the mouth in his previous game, but he has scored four goals and added four assists.

    Why the line works: Head coach Todd McLellan may not be convinced that this line is going to work consistently and may need a bit more time to be convinced. They are seeing the ice as a trio 21.3 percent of the time in the three games prior to the Sharks' 1-0 shootout victory over the Red Wings Oct. 21.

3. Steen, Backes, Oshie; St. Louis Blues

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    Line breakdown: LW Alex Steen, C David Backes, RW T.J. Oshie

    Notable numbers: Steen is off to a remarkable start with seven goals and four assists in his first seven games. He had this incredible game-winner against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this month. Backes is a non-stop engine who has six goals and three assists. Oshie has one goal and five assists and a plus-five rating.

    Why the line works: Go ahead and try to outwork this trio; it's simply not going to happen. Head coach Ken Hitchcock knows how valuable they are, but he's not going to tire them out early in the season. Steen, Backes and Oshie played 33.9 percent of the time over the Blues' last three games.

2. Malone, Stamkos, St. Louis; Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Line breakdown:  LW Ryan Malone, C Steven Stamkos, RW Martin St. Louis

    Notable numbers: No disrespect intended to Ryan Malone, but he is a lucky man to be playing alongside Stamkos and St. Louis.

    Stamkos may be the best and hardest working goal scorer in the league. Stamkos has five goals and five assists through Tampa Bay's first eight games along with a plus-five rating. He is averaging 20:01 of ice time per night, and he has fired 24 shots on goal. St. Louis plays with energy and drive, and he has four goals and six assists through the early going, along with a plus-six rating. Malone has chipped in with a goal and three assists and a plus-two rating.

    Why the line works: St. Louis and Stamkos seem to feed off each other and Malone is proving to be a solid complement as well. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper used them together 31.4 percent of the time in Tampa Bay's three most recent games.

1. Kunitz, Crosby, Dupuis; Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Dave Miller-USA TODAY Sports

    Line breakdown: LW Chris Kunitz, C Sidney Crosby, RW Pascal Dupuis

    Notable numbers: We're not going to kid ourselves here. When Sidney Crosby is on his game, he can make nearly anybody skating next to him look like an all-star. Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are not just ordinary players, but they are benefiting greatly from playing next to Sir Sidney.

    Crosby is off to a remarkable start, leading the league in scoring with seven goals and 10 assists. Kunitz has nothing to apologize for either, with four goals and six assists in his first nine games, along with a plus-10 rating. Dupuis has two goals and seven assists along with a plus-five rating. 

    Why the line works: Talent and opportunistic play separate this trio from every other line in the NHL.

    Head coach Dan Bylsma uses these three together as often as possible. They have played together 44.7 percent of the time over the last three games.