It was just under three weeks ago that the Calgary Flames fell to the St. Louis Blues by a score of 5-0, extending their losing streak to six games and things were looking very bleak. A rare bright spot towards the end of the streak was the newly formed line of Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan, and freshly called up Dillon Dube. Amid a sea of mediocrity, that line was a beacon of hope. We talked about it briefly on our podcast (check it out on ITunes and Spotify!), and at first we kind of dismissed as “How bad things must be going if that line has been your best line!”. A few weeks later, the Flames as a whole have turned things around, but the line that’s been at the center of that turnaround has been the Lucic-Ryan-Dube line.
Despite some tinkering in the opening lineups by interim head coach Geoff Ward, that line has always seemed to return by the midway point of the game. Ward has tried Johnny Gaudreau with Lucic and Ryan a few times, but it seems to have worked best for everyone to keep Gaudreau up with Sean Monahan and Dube down with his pair. As a result, the Flames may have finally found a lineup that allows them to roll three solid lines, plus the fourth line has been going the last few games as well (Zac Rinaldo for Hart Trophy??). Not too shocking that things have rapidly turned around. With Tuesday night’s win in Arizona, the Flames extended their win streak to six games and had scored 24 goals over those games. 11 different forwards have scored in that stretch, showing that the scoring depth might finally coming around in Calgary.
However at the head of the pack has been this trio. During the eight game point streak Derek Ryan (1G, 6A) and Dillon Dube (3G, 4A) both have seven points, and Milan Lucic has exploded for three goals in the last four games. While not all of these goals have come playing together or at even strength, this kind of depth scoring from bottom six forwards is exactly what is needed to have success in today’s NHL. Only Sean Monahan has more points than Ryan and Dube over the stretch.
While the sample size is still small, the trio have played just over 90 minutes of even strength time together. As a trio they are carrying a CF% of 53.54 and control 56.64% of the shots while on the ice. Their xGF% is 53.96 and they’re breaking even in scoring chances and high danger chances. All of these rates have been better than last year’s top line of Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm while together.
At this point you’d have to imagine that Dillon Dube won’t ever be suiting up for another AHL game in his career outside of a conditioning stint or something. After looking a bit lost last year, he has really stepped up his game and become a key cog in Calgary’s offence. He was rewarded with an overtime shift against the Avalanche and promptly put a nasty toe drag on Nathan MacKinnon (only the league’s best player right now) and then set up Sean Monahan with a breakaway pass.
When the Flames signed Derek Ryan, there was a lot of people unsure about why they were paying a “4th line Centre” over $3M. Now nearly a year and a half into his time in Calgary, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who doesn’t think it was worth it. He’s right on pace for yet another high 30s - low 40s point season. He’s hit 38 the last two years. He’s also tied for third on the team with 15 even strength points.
As for Milan Lucic, what else can be said. For most of the year he’s looked like what we expected, a not very fast and not particularly great hockey player but a guy who will give a great effort for the team every night. You can see just how much he means to the team whenever he scores and the entire bench jumps up, or when he has his own little celly with Rasmus Andersson. If Lucic can continue to have some use and even chip in a few points here and there, then he’s filling the role Calgary had in mind for him.
While these guys will eventually slow down, they’ve opened up more opportunity for the top players on the Flames to not have to shoulder as much of the offensive load. When the Flames are running four lines that all threats to score, they’re nearly unstoppable. While it’s easy to enjoy the victories right now, it’s important to remember how a lot of this started with just how strong this line was playing during the losing streak before the rest of the team caught on.