Did the Avalanche Win the ‘Top Line Showdown’?

The Colorado Avalanche suited up against the Boston Bruins last week in the battle of the top lines, a showdown between the leading point scoring trios in the NHL. Poll questions have circulated, media members have commented and fans have argued – which line is THE top line in the NHL? It’s time to break down their head-to-head matchup to see how they fared.

Meet Two Top-Scoring NHL Lines

In any good showdown, one needs to set the stage. It’s important to understand the competition and the key players involved in the action.

The Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins ice one of the more dangerous forward lines in hockey. Patrice Bergeron centers a feisty Brad Marchand with the up-and-coming David Pastrnak. Prior to the matchup, Boston’s dynamic trio had already racked up 68 points between them, vying for top honors as one of the NHL’s hottest line combinations heading into the showdown.

Brad Marchand David Pastrnak Patrice Bergeron Bruins
Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron – on of the best forward lines in hockey (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Pastrnak plays the role of dynamic goal scorer while getting a plethora of quality assists from his linemates. Marchand brings the tough physical presence to his effective two-way play as well as a questionable history as a dirty player. Bergeron contributes a four-time Selke Trophy-winning finesse as one of the better two-way forwards in hockey.

The Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche showcase a top line featuring Nathan MacKinnon centering the combination of gritty captain Gabriel Landeskog and rising star Mikko Rantanen. The Avalanche trio led the league in points prior to the matchup, tallying a combined 69 points.

MacKinnon – who reached another level of play last year – brings flashy skills while being strong on his skates. Landeskog creates openings and disrupts opponents as a nuisance on the ice, especially in front of – and around – the net. Rantanen adds quick hands and a nose for the goal as he vies for the NHL scoring lead in what has been a breakout year for him so far.

The showdown was set to bring clashing elements together. The Bruins brought a more proven veteran presence supporting their young star Pastrnak. The Avalanche showcased a younger and less decorated line combination growing more dangerous with each matchup. Which line would dominate? Or would they cancel each other out in a stalemate?

The Head-To-Head Matchup

The Avalanche hosted the Bruins in front of a packed house. The table was set and the tensions were high. Midway through the first period, Landeskog struck first, scoring off a slick feed from Rantanen.

MacKinnon Rantanen Landeskog Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and left wing Gabriel Landeskog vy for best line in hockey honors. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

But it was a short-lived lead, as Pastrnak struck back six minutes later to notch a power play goal to even the score. Less than three minutes later, Jake DeBrusk put the Bruins ahead off a costly MacKinnon turnover.

The second period saw two power play goals, one from DeBrusk and one from Rantanen, keeping the teams tight and finishing the period with the Bruins having a 3-2 lead.

But something happened to the Avalanche during intermission. The team came out firing on all cylinders to start the third period, scoring four consecutive goals to defeat the Bruins 6-3. The Bruins surrendered five unanswered goals to lose the game. MacKinnon scored the game-winner with goals from Matt Calvert, Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot helping to propel the team to victory.

At the end of the night, the Avalanche won the game by a substantial three-goal margin. If the scoreboard were the only indicator of success, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Line answered the call with a resounding cheer.

The Takeaways

However, some interesting questions should be considered. For example, is scoring the only measure of a top line?

Yes, the Avalanche trio compiled six points in the contest off of three goals and three assists while the Bruins top line came away with three points from a goal and two assists. From the scoring perspective, the Avalanche came away with the win and their Rocky Mountain Line opened up with some mighty impressive scoring.

Rantanen currently leads the league in points, closely followed by MacKinnon in second place while Bergeron and Pastrnak rank seventh and tenth, respectively. On the other hand, Pastrnak leads the league in goals, with both MacKinnon and Landeskog in a fifth-place tie for goals scored. Rantanen leads the league in assists while Bergeron ranks ninth. Both Bruins and Avalanche fans have a lot to cheer about.

Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen’s star continues to rise as he leads the league in points. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

But special teams matter too.

Both Bergeron and Marchand played on the penalty kill for Boston, and have done so throughout the start of the season. In fact, Bergeron averages two minutes per game of ice time in short-handed situations. Marchand plays over a minute and a half per game on the penalty kill. None of the Avalanche top-liners play any meaningful penalty kill minutes.

On the other hand, MacKinnon handles the sixth-most power play ice time of any NHL center while Rantanen and Landeskog rank fifth and sixth for wings on the man advantage. Meanwhile, none of the Bruins crack the top 35 for power play minutes.

Yet Pastrnak sits in a second-place tie for most power play goals, Bergeron sits in a fifth-place tie while Marchand and MacKinnon are tied for 14th. While the Avalanche top line racks up more minutes on the power play, the Bruins’ stars appear do a better job of converting those chances into goals.

Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand
Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are effective in many assets of the game.  (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Meanwhile, MacKinnon sits in a first-place tie for most even-strength goals with 11 and Landeskog trails him with nine – tied with Pastrnak. Rantanen leads the league for points per game, averaging 1.6 while MacKinnon sits in a second-place tie averaging 1.45.

The Avalanche top line also stands out in another area – combined ice time. MacKinnon ranks second, Landeskog ninth and Rantanen 11th. The Boston top line doesn’t have a player ranked above 35th in ice time.

Both teams have their specialties. Unfortunately, it may be a while before the debate is truly resolved. With injuries piling up for the Bruins, including one that looks to put Bergeron out for at least four weeks, the Avalanche have the advantage, for now.

The top line dispute could resume, though, when the two teams meet again in Boston on Feb. 10, 2019. By then, there may be more on the line than bragging rights. Both teams should be piling up the points for a solid playoff berth. And then the argument over which line is better can resume all over again.