Cooke-Staal-Kennedy: The Other “Top” Line


If you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, you’ve probably heard at least some version of the following:

Person A: I’m tellin’ ya, that Kunitz-Crosby-Guerin line is a great top line!

Person B: Yeah, its a really good line. But Fedotenko-Malkin-[insert player here] is the real top line.

Typically, the two persons would continue the argument for the next little while before concluding that you can’t really go wrong with either. Undoubtedly, they’d be correct in their conclusion, right? But consider this:

Person C: You’re both wrong! Cooke-Staal-Kennedy (Kennedy…) is the team’s top line.

“Are you serious?” you ask.  “Yes,” Person C responds empathically. I know this, too, for I am he.

Since the Cooke-Staal-Kennedy (Kennedy…) troika was put together last season, they have clearly been the team’s most effective line. Not effective in the “they create energy” sense; or the “they make things happen out there” sense, or the “they’re tough to play against” sense.

No, sir. They’ve been the team’s most effective line in the sense that they create energy, make things happen and are tough to play against each and every time their skates make contact with ice.

Consistency paves the road to success in the National Hockey League, and the Cooke-Staal-Kennedy (Kennedy…) unit serves as a template for that notion.

Entire game plans for opposing coaching staffs are centered around stopping Crosby and Malkin, the two-headed-monster. Sometimes teams are productive in doing so. Then, all of a sudden, that third head–with its left and right ears–comes out and pins that team’s top line in their defensive zone; and creates scoring chances, or draws a penalty.

“Aw, man!” the coaches say. “We’ve been working our tales off this whole time to stop the two stars and this unit gets us in trouble?”

“We have to pay attention to these guys, too.” And then their system crumbles. Then Crosby and Malkin get room. Then they take advantage and make you pay.

That’s the effect of the Cooke-Staal-Kennedy (Kennedy…) trifecta: they assist the Crosby-Malkin “goals,” if you will.

While Crosby and Malkin receive praise for making other players around them better–deservedly so, by the way–the Staal unit creates room for its other lines and makes them better.

Come playoff time, pardon the reference, but “Who ya gonna call?” The Staal unit. Their style of play is what playoff hockey is all about: pin ’em deep, outwork them and just grind it out.

Notice how many prolific regular-season goal-scorers stumble come April, May or June: playoff goals are scored differently–in front of the net. They’re garbage goals–goals you pay a price for–like your teeth.

Well, in the playoffs, a similar logic applies: you can’t make the same kinds of plays.

The Staal unit gets it and that’s why the Penguins are the Stanley Cup champs. And that’s why they should be considered a favorite in the Eastern Conference.

And that’s why their depth up the middle is unmatched. Etc. etc. etc.

Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophies mean very little for guys like Crosby and Malkin. They’re after a different kind of hardware and allow whoever wins the “Rocket” award to have their time in the sun.

Just like the Cooke-Staal-Kennedy (Kennedy…) line allows the Crosby-Malkin lines to get theirs.