In this world, there are a handful of universal constants.
The speed of light in a vacuum, the constant of gravitation and the elementary charge, just to name a few, but there is one physical force that rules over them all.
No, it’s not Planck’s Constant, nor is it that of Rydberg, Josephson or von Klitzing.
If there is one constant in this universe to rule them all, it’s the constant play of the Carolina Hurricanes’ “Identity Line.”
The line is composed of a trio of players who won’t garner much in terms of national attention, but whose value to the the team they’re on is second to none.
Jordan Staal, perhaps one of the league’s strongest and most consistent defensive centers and one that was much maligned in the early parts of his Hurricanes career.
Jesper Fast, one of the league’s top — yet most underrated — pure, defensive wingers.
And Jordan Martinook, who started the season on waivers.
Night in and night out, these guys go to work the same way – “The Right Way” – every time.
“These guys prepare and play the right way,” said head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “You ask guys to compete every night and you can just watch that in every shift with how they play. They don’t leave anything in the tank. That’s just hard to play against when your opponent has that mentality.”
The Staal line has been on the ice together for 391:07 of 5v5 ice time this season and are heavily outchancing opponents with a 62.34 CF%, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
They’ve allowed just 13 goals against while they are on the ice – keep in mind that’s normally against opposing top lines – and have accounted for 21 goals for.
“It’s really just playing in the opponent’s end as much as you can and making them defend you,” Staal said. “Those top players obviously want the puck on their stick and they want to be in the offensive zone or at least creating chances on the breakout and stuff. Just try to wear them down and play in their end and when they do have the puck, give them as little time and space as you can.”
“Our mindset is to just try and keep the puck,” Martinook said. “We try to play down in their end so they can’t come at you and by the time they’re ready to get out of their zone, they’re tired and need to change. But then when you do have the breakdowns, I think all of us are pretty aware defensively and if you do have a breakdown, we’re kind of there to back each other up.”
Whether it’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or any other of the NHL’s biggest and brightest stars, it’s the Staal line that gets the monumental task of slowing them down.
And more likely than not, that’s exactly what happens.
It all begins with the big man down the middle.
“You’ve just got Jordo down the middle kind of directing traffic,” Martinook said of the captain. “He’s a beast. Whenever he’s going up against their top guy – and usually it’s their center – he does a pretty good job.”
“Jordo is probably one of the strongest players in the league right now,” Fast said. “There’s not many players that can push him away from the puck or take the puck from him. He’s driving our line in that way. He’s also so good in the dot, winning faceoffs and just puck possession. That’s been the key.”
Staal is a monster of a man, standing at 6’4” (about 6’7” on skates) and weighing in at 220lbs officially. He’s 53.2% in the faceoff dot with 84 hits and 20 takeaways. If you go into the corners with him… good luck.
From there though, it’s about how the wingers complement their center.
“Help has to be there,” Fast said. “You have to be supported. We play with all five-men together as a unit. Just being hard on the forecheck and not trying to make too many cute plays. Maybe we try to keep the puck instead of trying to make a fancy play that could hurt us.”
“We always try to keep the puck down low against them and muck it up down there,” Martinook said. “Keeping the puck out of those guys’ hands is usually going to be a recipe for success.”
“Trying to keep the puck and puck possession because if we have the puck, they can’t score,” Fast said.
According to PuckIQ.com, the Staal line have spent the highest percentage of their minutes against “elite” competition amongst the team — over a third of their total 5v5 ice time — and control a CF% of over 54%.
“I think just the way we play in general is a great system in regards to making it hard on those top players,” Staal said. “We’re definitely a puck pressure team and there’s really not a whole lot of moments in a game where a guy can feel comfortable with the puck, at least not without having a guy coming at him. That makes it hard. We have guys that support each other if there are mistakes and it’s really just taking away their time and space and when you start doing that consistently, you start to realize their options and maybe anticipate and jump on a pass or stuff like that.”
That same mentality is also why the trio is so good on the penalty kill. The three forwards have the highest amount of shorthanded ice time among the team’s forwards and by far are the stingiest in terms of chances allowed.
And if that dominant puck possession play wasn’t enough, the line is also starting to carry some of the scoring load as well.
Already, each member of the line has had an offensively dominant night.
Martinook had a hat trick against the St. Louis Blues in December and had a second three point night later in the month against the Philadelphia Flyers.
In that same Philadelphia game, Staal had a three assist night and Fast registered two goals. That game came in the middle of each’s five-game point streak.
So what’s the secret formula? New flexes, offseason training in a secret lab in Nova Scotia, Element X in those BioFuel water bottles?
Well if you ask Jordan Staal, the answer is a lot simpler.
“Puck’s are just going in. I think we’ve been playing some good hockey for a while and that’s just the way the game works. Sometimes you get rewarded a lot and sometimes you don’t.”
Martinook followed up with a similar sentiment.
“We’ve just been getting rewarded for hard work. They haven’t been super pretty goals. It’s all been getting to the net and grinding away which is kind of the MO of the line. It’s been clicking and going in lately.”
“Consistency. All three of us come to work every day and we work hard.”
Well, even if there isn’t some greater secret, the truth is that the trio has certainly found the back of the net more often as of late, on pace for a combined total of nearly 50 goals and 100 points, which would be an outstanding piece of depth scoring.
Granted, those paces certainly won’t continue, but with the way that they drive and control play, everything extra is just gravy.
“They’ve been so good for so long,” Brind’Amour said. “They really embody our identity in how we want to play. They lead the way for the team and it’s nice to see them get rewarded for all the great work they’ve done. Not just this year. It’s been since Jordan’s been here. He’s played the same way. You go through stretches where you’re not scoring and things aren’t going, but so long as your play doesn’t deviate, which I can pretty much say his play has been the same night in and night out, that’s what you want.”