The 3M line featuring Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, and Michael Frolik entered the year as the club’s putative “third line”, but has cemented itself as the club’s top trio so far.
However, the Backlund line isn’t just Calgary’s best – it’s one of the best in the NHL. Here’s evidence:
Line combo shot rates
Cgy, Bos, and Nsh have the NHL's niftiest lines.
Stl, Wsh, and Ana have some slow-paced trios.
Always fun in Tor. pic.twitter.com/jJMdUmeopb
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) March 11, 2017
This chart shows the best and worst forward lines in the league in terms of generating and allowing shots. The 3M line is in the upper right “GOOD” corner next to Boston’s always impressive Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand combo.
However, what this chart doesn’t show is each line’s circumstances, although it does adjust for them with a correction factor. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting. Via Corsica, here’s a chart comparing the top three lines in the league in terms of zone starts (offensive zone/defensive zone faceoffs) and quality of competition.
As you can see, 3M is on the extreme edge of defensive zone usage. They start out far more often in their own end than the other two best outshooting lines in the league, which makes their shot differentials even more impressive*.
*(They also play slightly easier competition, although the range on the Y-axis on this graph makes the difference seem much larger than it is. Example: Bergeron’s average quality of opposition by ice time is about 30.2 minutes. Backlund’s is about 29.6. A difference of 0.6 minutes.)
If you’re curious about Calgary’s turnaround and stark improvement over last year, this line one of the primary reasons.