While the Ducks have been beleaguered by some inconsistent play over the first half of this season, and particularly on this recent road trip there is one facet of the club that remains dependable.
Anaheim's shutdown line of center Ryan Kesler and wingers Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg have been intact for the better part of the last three seasons - and they constantly prove why that's been the case. The trio is almost always sent out to take on the opponent's top line, a task in which they unfailingly thrive.
That has clearly been evident when they've taken on some of the NHL's most prolific scores. In a combined 10 games against the likes of Dallas' Tyler Seguin, San Jose's Joe Pavelski, Edmonton's Connor McDavid and LA's Anze Kopitar, the shutdown line has held them to exactly zero even-strength goals.
Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who has watched his phenom McDavid (the NHL leader in scoring) held scoreless in two games vs. Anaheim this season, called the unit "one of the top lines in the league" earlier this season.
"All three of us work hard," said Silfverberg. "We know where each other is. We play a lot with the puck. Even though we're playing against the other team's top lines, we're getting in on the forecheck and winning puck battles."
But while they continue to keep the enemy off the scoreboard in their own zone, this year they are each racking up points on the other end of the rink.
As of December 27, Kesler has 12 goals and was tied for tops on the Ducks in scoring. Silfverberg, plagued by a slow start offensively last year, already has nine goals and 13 goals this campaign. And Cogliano, who had just nine goals last season, already had matched that number through the first 35 games, two of which came shorthanded.
"We're making those guys play defense," Silfverberg says "and a lot of times that's not their biggest strength."
Former Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau once called Cogliano, Kesler and Silfverberg "the glue of our team," a group that has seemed to shine even more during the past two postseasons together. Not surprisingly, their line has been the only one current coach Randy Carlyle kept completely intact when he took over before this season.
Carlyle, you may remember, put together a formidable shutdown line of Rob Niedermayer, Sami Pahlsson and Travis Moen during Anaheim's Stanley Cup run in 2007. A decade later, this group appears just as effective as that one defensively and on the penalty kill, while providing even more at the offensive end.
It all starts in the middle with Kesler, who is having yet another huge season after coming to the Ducks in the summer of 2014. One of the undisputed leaders in the Anaheim dressing room, Kesler was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward last season and appears poised to be in the running for it again. Along with his (and his line's) aforementioned dominance at even strength, the 32-year-old Kesler is also a prominent part of the Anaheim power play and penalty kill. He also happens to lead the league in faceoff wins (closing in on 500 as of the New Year).
Carlyle became familiar with Kesler back when he coached him with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL in 2003-04 and as a frequent and pesky opponent for more than a decade thereafter.
"His value gets increased [against] the opposition," Carlyle says. "As a coach you feel comfortable playing him against those [top] players. And then in big games, Kes has a way to step up to the next level. He always seems to have a little bit more to give you."
The same could be said of Cogliano and Silfverberg, who with Kesler form a dynamic trio the Ducks will continue to rely on over the second half of this season and into the playoffs.
"It's part of their mandate and their makeup of the group, but I think they're more than what you would call a shutdown line," Carlyle says. "If you look at their contribution to our offense to their all-around game, they're salesmen for a coaching staff. They do it the right way 99 percent of the time. That's really a luxury for a coach to have that group together and to watch them execute and work and do the things that are asked of them on a game-to-game basis."