The checking line of Pahlsson, Niedermayer and Moen are a vital part of the Ducks attack
By Adam Brady
You won't often find them on the front page of the sports section, or even the box score, and few fans walk around Honda Center in jerseys with their names on the back.
Yet the Ducks checking line of forwards Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen are just as vital to the team's success as the guys who fill the nets with pucks.
"They don't always get the headlines when the team has had success or lack of it," says head coach Randy Carlyle, "but they have been at the forefront of our group. We put that group together and they've rarely disappointed us with their effort and their ability. They do the workmanlike responsibilities night in and night out."
Both Niedermayer and Pahlsson were a part of the Ducks team that lost to New Jersey in seven games in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. Moen joined the team prior to last season after spending his rookie year playing all 82 games in Chicago. Niedermayer is the elder statesman of the group, having played 14 NHL seasons with Florida, Calgary and the Ducks. Pahlsson is in his sixth season, having played his first 17 games with Boston before the Bruins traded him to Anaheim midway through the 2000-01 campaign.
Pahlsson, Niedermayer and Moen have teamed on the Ducks fourth line since training camp, though they all played together at times last season. Their primary responsibility revolves around going up against the opponent's top offensive line and limiting their scoring chances, which is why it's often called the "shutdown" line. They also each spend time on the penalty-killing unit.
Their worth is not measured in statistics, aside from plus/minus stat that indicates how often they were on the ice for Ducks goals in contrast to goals against. "At the end of the night," Niedermayer says, "if we're at even or plus, we know we've done our jobs. That's all we need."
You want stats? Since the checking line typically matches up against the opponent's top line, that means they have to help stop several marquee, high-scoring forwards. In a month-long stretch starting on Nov. 6, the Ducks held Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Calgary's Jarome Iginla, San Jose's Joe Thornton, Nashville's Paul Kariya, Colorado's Joe Sakic and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin to exactly one point combined (an Ovechkin assist). That work was the culmination of the Ducks defensemen and the forwards on that checking line.
"We have to be a line that doesn't have any turnovers because we're usually going against the other team's top line," Niedermayer says. "We just try and wear them down, play smart and always be in position. That's what we concentrate on."
In the offensive end, their concentration also revolves around constant forechecking (or keeping the puck in the offensive zone) and trying to wear down the opposing defense. That in turn creates opportunities for the Ducks scorers when they step onto the ice.
"We want to keep the puck in their end," says Pahlsson. "That's where we can score or set up other guys to score."
Adds Carlyle, "Our game is predicated on the ability to have a strong forecheck. We feel we have the size and numbers of people with size to create a grinding type of game in the offensive zone, forcing defensemen to play extra minutes in the defensive zone. All those things culminate into a hockey club that has to play that way to have success. And those three are at the forefront of that."
That's not to say they don't do some scoring themselves. Last year Niedermayer had 15 goals, while Pahlsson had 11 and is on pace to surpass that this year. Moen had only four in an injury-abbreviated 2005-06 season, and has already matched that this year. While the guys who actually score the goals may get the cheers, the headlines and the Sportscenter highlights, the checking line is what helps make that happen.
"Everyone wants to score a lot," Pahlsson admits. "The best thing you can do in hockey is score goals. But we all play a role and take pride in that role. The first thing we want to do is win, and we need a little bit of everything to win."
Says Moen, "It's nice to score goals, but we all have a role on the team and all three of us enjoy that. That's part of what makes us successful. It would be nice to score 30 or 40 a year, but we have to leave that to our top line."
Adds Niedermayer, "Of course it's nice to be recognized, but the first thing it to win games."
And that they have done this season. Ask any of the Ducks why they have been so successful and they point to the value of every player on the roster knowing his responsibility and thriving in it. From the shoot-first forwards to the passers to the scoring blue liners to the penalty killers, each player has taken their particular task to heart. And nowhere is that more evident than on the checking line.
"You just have to take pride in what your job is," Niedermayer says. "Everybody knowing and accepting your role is a big part of any successful team."
While neither of the three usually start the game, they often finish it, hitting the ice in the last minutes to help secure a Ducks advantage.
"When you're out there in the last minute of a game, holding a lead, it's exciting," Moen says. "It's great being out there at that time."
Carlyle put the line together at the outset of the season and has no plans of breaking them up.
"The biggest tribute you can give to a player or a line is when the coaching staff trusts them," Carlyle says. "And we trust them."
This story appears in the current issue of Ducks Digest. Pick up a complimentary copy at your next Ducks game.